Posted on 08/07/16
It’s been a great month for football. Although Euro 2016 has been all most of us can talk about, it’s time to get ourselves ready for the transfer window and pre-season friendlies, with only Sunday’s final between Portugal and France left to play. We have former England international John Barnes in to reflect on the competition so far.
Portugal vs France will cap a wonderful few weeks of football. It’s been an infectious tournament across the Channel, with the football on show having been great and packed with drama. Of course it’s not quite over yet, but I thought this would be a good time to look back at Euro 2016 so far...
For me, when I look back at this tournament I’ll think of the emergence of the so-called ‘lesser nations’. The expanded nature of the competition gave some teams greater hope in qualifying and in turn we’ve had some new names on the pitch in France. Of course Wales reaching the semi-finals is special on this front, but Iceland doing what they did and Albania impressing in the group was also very impressive.
I think this is what modern football will be about now. We’re moving away from a time of individual talent being king, with well-organised sides playing to their strengths the new trend. Leicester winning the league doing so last season was evidence of this, and, criticise England all you like, Iceland were excellent on this front in the last 16 game.
There haven’t been, as I alluded to before, a great deal of individuals running games. I can’t think of many single players putting in performances that have won games or rescued points through the tournament. It’s been all about the team and working collectively. Of course the better XIs have a smattering of that superstar quality, and France have really benefitted from having Antoine Griezmann in excellent form. For me, he’s been the best player at the Euros, but he may not have stood out in years gone by.
In terms of a nation, I can’t look past Iceland. We all know about the small population the country has and, as a result, the limited pool of footballers, so they massively exceeded expectations. They may not have been pretty to watch and it might have somewhat fallen apart against France, yet they deserve massive levels of praise for what they achieved. Wales deserve a nod, but they have that quality in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
I look towards Portugal when I think of the player to have impressed me the most. No, it’s not Cristiano Ronaldo I’m thinking of; instead it’s Renato Sanches. For such a young man to have made such an impact for a team heading to the final is fantastic, and I’ve been stunned by what he’s been doing in a team that sometimes seems overshadowed by Ronaldo.
One word: expectation. We went into this tournament and people were talking about the latter stages without a ball having been kicked. We then slipped against Russia, which brought a lot of negativity, and narrowly beat Wales before looking pretty average against Slovakia. Many were happy to see Iceland as the opponents for the next round, but we all know what happened next!
I’ve said all along that this young team should not be judged now and that Euro 2016 was, although not a building block, a competition that should be used to look towards the World Cup in 2018. The core of footballers coming through like Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling will have more experience by that point, but right now they aren’t seasoned players and cannot be expected to get thrown together and perform in one of the biggest competitions in the sport. Of course we were expecting to beat Iceland, but the pressure clearly got to the players when that second goal went in, and a lack of know-how meant that the team couldn’t get back into it. Expectation and reality need to be in line.
England will only benefit if we learn from it. What I mean by that is, for example, if we say ‘we went out because Roy Hodgson is a bad coach’, it will have been pointless. If that excuse is handed to the players, they won’t be able to take it upon themselves to improve as footballers and as a team. We need to look at ourselves and say ‘we didn’t get as far as we wanted as we weren’t good enough’. It’s simple. Do the right things and Euro 2016 could be learnt from before the World Cup.
Portugal vs France
This is the big one. I don’t want to commit to a scoreline, but I think the hosts will get over the line and win. Portugal have rather stuttered to the final, and France have a passionate set of supporters behind them!
Posted on 06/07/16
Euro 2016 is building steadily towards its climax, with the semi-finals almost upon us. Wales have defied the odds, France are doing it for the home fans, Germany are looking to follow their World Cup triumph with more silverware and Portugal are… hoping to win their first game of the tournament in normal time! We have ex-England and Liverpool man John Barnes here to have his say on the big talking points.
Here we are, the close of Euro 2016 is almost upon us, with only the semi-finals and final left to play... 24 teams have been whittled down to just four, and few would have predicted before a ball was kicked that Wales would be among this quartet. It’s a simply huge achievement for them to have got to this stage and really does show the power of working together as a team and having a good set-up on the pitch. Wales are by no means one of the best teams in the tournament in terms of quality, but they have worked hard and used what they have got in their locker to great effect. Of course they have a sprinkling of real star quality, and Chris Coleman has utilised that brilliantly. I have to say that I think Belgium played into their hands by keeping the quarter-final game open even when Radja Nainggolan had put them 1-0 up, but that’s no disservice to Wales, who did what they had to do.
Sticking with Wales, it’s been a bit irritating to see them described as Gareth Bale and 10 others. Yes, he’s their best player, and one of the finest footballers on the planet, but I don’t think he’s been the major factor in what they have done so far. If you look through the team, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey have been running games in midfield, while Ashley Williams has been a real leader at the back. Even players like Hal Robson-Kanu, who hasn’t got a club at the moment, have really stepped up to make Wales greater than the sum of their parts. Bale has scored those free-kicks and looked dangerous, and still has time to create a career-defining moment for himself in France, but Coleman’s team have been just that, a team.
Wales coming this far really, for me, illustrates a trend in football in which the lesser teams are showing that they can indeed compete. If you look back through this tournament alone Albania were impressive and Iceland made it to the last eight. Outside of international football, Leicester won the Premier League, too.
Going into the semi-final, I still see Wales as the underdogs. Portugal, as we all know, haven’t won a game in normal time so far and have only led in their matches for a combined total for 22 minutes. Belgium were a bigger test in terms of quality of opposition, but Coleman’s side are by no means, as some people are hinting, the stronger team going into this one. Of course there are encouraging signs, but to take Portugal even slightly lightly would be a mistake.
It’s not just Wales and Portugal left though, and the other game includes a couple of nations that go by the name of France and Germany. This one, on paper, is a mouth-watering tie, with the hosts against the reigning world champions. Both sides have quality in every position, so most are predicting a really stunning game of football. But those thinking that goals and attacking football may be plentiful could be disappointed, as, with any game at this stage of a massive tournament, this one will be cagey. It goes without saying that neither team will want to lose, so this will be a match for purists, with Joachim Low and Didier Deschamps’ decisions likely to be as key as the ones made by their players on the pitch.
In terms of overall quality, I think Germany edge it. Both teams have excellent players in attack and in midfield, but the world champions are much stronger at the back, with Jerome Boateng particularly impressive in his reading of the game and sheer physicality. France have Antoine Griezmann, who in my opinion has been the player of the tournament so far, who makes them slightly stronger than Germany going forward, but at the other end is where the real deciding factor could be in terms of who reaches the final.
Wales 1-2 Portugal
This will be a tight game and Wales will be by no means outclassed, but Portugal have a little more experience and perhaps a bit more quality with players such as Cristiano Ronaldo.
France 1-2 Germany
Another tight game here, and I don’t think home advantage will be enough for France, with Germany more than capable of controlling a game against any opposition.
Posted on 29/06/16
The nation is in shock. A Euro 2016 campaign that promised so much initially has ended in a shock defeat at the hands of Iceland, which has resulted in Roy Hodgson stepping down and criticism being aimed at all departments of the Three Lions set-up. We have a former international star in the shape of John Barnes on the case to give his verdict.
Disappointment. That is my overall feeling following England’s elimination from Euro 2016. However, unlike many, I’m not heartbroken by the way the team went out, indeed I do actually think there are some positives to be taken from the wreckage of another failed major tournament campaign. Regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve been adamant in my view that this England side should not be judged on this year’s tournament, and I stick to this judgement. The major aim has to be the 2018 World Cup, which is now only 24-ish months away, and the players will, although it’s hard to digest now, be better for their experience in France. We should really have beaten, no disrespect, a footballing nation like Iceland, who, as we all know, have a small pool of players to pick from, but with a young squad, this competition was all about gaining experience. It was arrogant to think that this team could go even close to ‘all the way’, and I think it should serve as a wake up call for the FA and the entire senior set-up, and one that must be used with a view towards Russia.
Roy Hodgson was quick to step down after the game, and, in truth, with his contract due to expire shortly, there was no other option. Naturally attention now turns to who will replace him, and for me Glenn Hoddle is the right man. Hoddle knows about modern football and getting the best out of players and playing in a way to be successful. For me, he was the right man before [1996 – 1999] and if you want an English manager now, coaches such as Gareth Southgate don’t have the necessary experience.
I wouldn’t necessarily put too much stock in the next manager having to be English, though. If the FA sees the candidate they want to carry out their vision, where he’s from shouldn’t come into it. Football is a results business, after all. Unfortunately we haven’t promoted enough English managers up to the Premier League, and the national side has paid the price for this to an extent. It’s the same story with players, with a restricted pool of talent an issue. We’ve lost our identity to an extent, and for that reason it’s hard to heap a lot of blame on Hodgson for what’s happened at the last two major tournaments, as he’s had a limited selection of players to pick from when compared to countries such as Germany and Spain. I would like to have an English manager, but if the best option is from abroad and there is a long-term plan to work to, I’ll be on board.
I don’t think there were any real mistakes made at Euro 2016, though. Fingers can be pointed at team selection, but we have to remember we’ve had players such as John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in their prime and not achieved significantly greater results. We can’t really expect Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Dele Alli to come straight in and be a success. They are young and need experience. It’s sort of a case of English arrogance, as we saw with the recent EU referendum... but that’s a whole different story!
I want to remain somewhat positive about it all, and I mentioned before in terms of a lack of experience, the players who have played will be better off for what has happened in France. They now have big tournament know-how and will improve as a result of this heading towards the 2018 World Cup, which has to be the real focus. In terms of the team, we are in a transitional period in which the real leaders in the squad have been phased out, with only Wayne Rooney left as a true senior star, and we’ll only come through this with time and patience.
Even amid this time of international football, the transfer stories do not cease, and indeed Liverpool have signed Sadio Mane from Southampton for a fee of, depending on which reports you believe, between £30m and £38m. I think it’ll be a fantastic deal for the club. He’s a good attacking player with lots of pace and skill, and he offers a different option than the likes of Adam Lallana, who has been great in recent times for Liverpool and England, which can only be a positive for Klopp.
Some have questioned the ambition of the club with such a fee likely to make Mane the ‘marquee signing’ of Klopp’s first summer. I don’t really understand the ‘marquee’ phenomenon, though, as the only players that come into that bracket, for me, are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Liverpool are obviously shopping in a very different market, and Mane offers what they need and what Klopp clearly wants. If we take the price out of the equation it’s hard to argue that he’s not a very, very good player, so the money shouldn’t be talked about to a great extent.
Posted on 22/06/16
It may not have been pretty, but England secured their place in the knockout rounds of the European Championships with a draw against Slovakia on Monday night. Analysing the Three Lions’ performance, where Roy’s boys go from here and who’s looking in good stead for the Euro 2016 crown is former England star John Barnes…
England didn’t produce a fantastic performance against Slovakia, but we’ve gone through - which is the main thing. We’ve created more chances than any other team in the competition but we haven’t scored enough goals and we haven’t been clinical enough in front of goal. But what matters most is getting through and in many respects finishing second could be a blessing in disguise.
Much was made of the six changes to the starting line-up but England played well, because of the quality we have in terms of Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy coming into the team for Harry Kane and Jack Wishere for Dele Alli - I don’t think the changes necessarily weakened England. What probably weakened us, however, was Wayne Rooney not being in the team, not in terms of physicality or quality but inexperience. Of course, we have a lot of good players, but he gives us that real experience, so Rooney’s absence was a surprise to me.
But in terms of the performance, that was probably the best England have played so far – equally as well as we did against Russia and Wales - but just couldn’t score. And that’s where we’re going to need to improve, especially when we face teams who play deep and defend in numbers. We aren’t a team like Spain who can pay through them; our strengths showed in the first half when Jamie Vardy got his first chance because there was a lot of space in behind. If you give England space in behind, with our energy and our pace, even the full-backs will create problems.
So in some ways, facing a bigger team in the next round could suit England more because they’ll play a more open game and attack. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather play someone like Hungary or Iceland because I don’t think they have enough quality to hurt us, but I think counter-attacking suits England more.
Who would I start up front in the next game? Well, look at what Harry Kane did against Wales and Russia, when teams defend deep against us. Kane is very good at holding the ball up and bringing people into play. Vardy’s good if you want the ball to be played over the top, but I much prefer a target man so I would go for Harry Kane. As much as he’s not been doing brilliantly in terms of goals, he’s held the ball up really well and caused a threat.
Overall, I would go with something similar to the team that played Wales. I would change the full-backs – Nathaniel Clyne played really well but Kyle Walker has made that position his own – and in midfield I’d put Rooney back in.
The one thing you’d say is that has Dele Alli really done enough to say he should definitely be in the team as oppose to Jack Wilshere or even Jordan Henderson. Henderson did very well against Slovakia. Likewise, when you play against better teams you need a stronger midfield from a defensive point of view and Dele Alli doesn’t really give you that. So in midfield I would go with Henderson, Rooney and Dier to give us that strength.
I would still go with Lallana, he’s done enough to stay in the side and performed really well from an attacking perspective. I would also pick Sturridge. I don’t think you can play Kane and Vardy wide but Sturridge does like to get wide, come short and get involved and he still has that scoring threat.
But having now seen every team play at least twice, I think Spain will win it because of the way they control the game. Spain aren’t the team they were but they still control the game completely – they didn’t score many goals against the Czech Republic but created chances. And the fact of the matter is that you don’t hurt Spain – you don’t have enough on the ball to hurt Spain. So you either draw 0-0 or lose 1-0 or get absolutely destroyed.
Italy are very well-organised but I think they don’t have enough individual quality. Croatia could be dark horses and of course, you can never write off Germany; no matter how well they’re playing they’ll always be there or thereabouts. But my money’s on Spain!
Posted on 14/06/16
England kicked off Euro 2016 with arguably their best performance at an international tournament in a generation, but unfortunately not the result it deserved. Dissecting England's opening fixture and what it could mean for their second game - a feisty clash against home nations rivals Wales - is Three Lions great John Barnes...
There were definitely more positives than negatives from England's draw with Russia in terms of the performance. They could have scored two or three goals in the first half, although in the second half Russia got back into it. But the only disappointing thing was the game management England showed after taking the lead. I found it quite a strange substitution; Wayne Rooney playing the holding role alongside Eric Dier, you go 1-0 up in a game you really want to win and then you bring an attacking midfield player on in Jack Wilshere.
Maybe Roy Hodgson wanted to take the game to Russia rather than holding what we had and keeping his captain on - who is probably the most influential as well as the most senior and experienced player - at a crucial time of the game. That was a bit strange because we were only 1-0 up. The opposition only needed one goal, no matter where it was from, and they were back in the game. And in the 88th minute, we could have kept the ball in the corner but we still wanted to play - that's where experience counts for a lot.
But Hodgson shouldn't feel the need to make changes because it was quite an attacking team. I thought he'd play a stronger midfield against Russia - maybe James Milner or Jordan Henderson - to make sure we didn't lose the first game but, of course, the midfielders played brilliantly. I don't think he'll make changes and that's what he should do, because I don't think Wales will dominate possession and although Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey can cause a few problems, I don't think they'll cause that many. So England can keep it quite attacking in terms of playing Sterling, Alli or even Wilshere and I would definitely keep the team in a similar style to how they played against Russia.
Likewise, England shouldn't be too worried about Gareth Bale because in terms of open play, he didn't do that much against Slovakia. He scored the free kick but that was it, apart from a few spurts when Slovakia pushed forward and he found some space on the break. I don't think he's going to win the game single-handedly for Wales so I don't think England need to do anything special like doubling up on him or putting an extra man on him for the whole game. They just have to be wary of when he gets the ball in terms of closing down. So England for me are the favourites and I think they'll win the game. But of course, you have to be wary of all good players in any team and Bale is the best player in the Wales team so England have to pay attention to him.
It will be a very interesting game for the British audience, because when you look at the Wales team they have a lot of players from the lower divisions. So it may not be so much a Premier League game but it will be a British game if you like, because both are of course home nation teams and a lot of the players will know each other.
But I think England will have too much for Wales because we're a very attacking side. Slovakia aren't but they still caused Wales a few problems so England should cause them a lot more.
England 3-1 Wales
Harry Kane to score first
Posted on 08/06/16
After months of waiting, Euro 2016 is now (almost) here. England’s chances are a huge talking point across the nation, and ahead of their opening game against Russia, we have former Three Lion John Barnes to talk about Roy Hodgson’s men in France...
We’ve had a few days of relative calm in the football world but now with Euro 2016 upon us it’s set to go into overdrive, with some of the best players and top national teams over in France for the coming month.
Naturally, we’re all interested in England’s chances, and I think they’ll get through Group B with relative ease. The new format of the competition means that even if you finish in third spot in the opening stage, you’re pretty much certain to go through to the last 16, and it would be an utter disaster for England to not do enough to get that far. But beyond that it’s hard to know what will happen. For example, my brother-in-law is an Evertonian, and every season he says they’ll have a cup run. But how can you predict that? An early draw against a Man United or an Arsenal makes the whole journey 10 times more difficult. I do, however, think England can win Group B and that will give them a favourable last 16 draw, so the last eight is a realistic aim.
In terms of the opening game, I can see a draw with Russia. For me, the first match is all about not losing, and we saw the negative effect an opening loss can have on a team’s chances at the 2014 World Cup when Italy beat us. I believe England will be a little cagey so as to not get caught out by a decent Russia team, who themselves will have similar aspirations in the match. From there though, England should beat Wales and get the result they need against Slovakia – whether that be a win or draw – to get through, probably in top spot.
England’s last match saw Hodgson ‘go for it’ a little against Portugal, with Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane all on the pitch together. I wasn’t wowed by this set-up, as Rooney breaking through middle pushed the other two into wider positions, and I think the manager will go with just his captain and Kane to lead the line ahead of a four man midfield against Russia. That’s not to say we won’t see all three, Daniel Sturridge or even Marcus Rashford at some point.
For me, Russia don’t have any real standout names to be wary of. No disrespect to them. However, they are a well-drilled, experienced team, so they’ll carry a threat that England have to deal with. In that respect I think Hodgson must go with a slightly more pragmatic XI, like the one I would choose:
Joe Hart; Kyle Walker, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, Danny Rose; Eric Dier, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli; Wayne Rooney; Harry Kane
Looking ahead at the tournament as a whole from England’s perspective, I think Kane will be our key man. To do well this year we will need to score goals and win games, and in that respect Kane will be our most dangerous player. He’s confident, has been in good form and looks a breath of fresh air in the team with his attitude and desire.
England 1-1 Russia
As I said before, I think a draw will suit England in the opening game, so I can see the scores ending level. Goalscorers – Harry Kane and Artem Dyzuba.
Posted on 01/06/16
The domestic football season is now officially over, so attention switches to the European Championship in France this summer. England have announced their squad and the optimism surrounding the Three Lions is growing as the days pass. We have a man who pulled on the famous white shirt on 79 occasions with us today in the shape of John Barnes, who will be talking all things England.
Just one game. This week’s friendly against Portugal will be England’s last dress rehearsal before Euro 2016 kicks off in France, and with the squad having been announced, we really can start guessing and speculating as to what may happen over the coming month.
Among the 23 men who will be boarding the plane shortly, Marcus Rashford’s name really stands out. The 18-year-old has enjoyed a stellar few months at Manchester United, scoring some big goals and really emerging in what has been a difficult time for the club. He’s clearly full of confidence, and there is a certain logic, despite his lack of experience, to Roy Hodgson’s decision. Had Daniel Sturridge have been fully fit and not picked up a niggling injury in training, I think Rashford would have been left behind. However, a player of the Liverpool man’s quality has to be taken regardless, so it would have been a gamble to not have another striker in reserve. I don’t think Rashford will play in France. I know he’s there, but he’s behind Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Wayne Rooney and Sturridge, so unless there’s bad luck with injuries or England are coasting to a win, I think the teenager is going to get settled in the squad with an eye on the future.
In terms of the only other controversial choice, I’m behind Hodgson with the selection of Jack Wilshere. It’s clear that Hodgson loves the Arsenal midfielder and appreciates what he brings in terms of passing and movement in the middle of the pitch. Like Sturridge, his fitness is the biggest issue, but we have plenty of cover in the centre of the pitch, and if you look at the players who have not been selected, it’s hard to make a huge argument that the strongest 23, injuries aside, are not in the mix.
It’s an attack-heavy selection from Hodgson. Some have speculated that this means a 4-4-2 diamond is in his thoughts, but I’m not 100% sure he’ll go for that. The players selected are flexible, so Hodgson is able to select between systems depending on the opposition. For me though, formations are not the most important thing, England need XI players playing at the top of their game at the Euros. Whether that be in a 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, it doesn’t really matter.
It’s hard to choose an XI for the opening game of the competition against Russia, but assuming every player is fit, this would be my first choice XI:
Joe Hart; Nathaniel Clyne, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, Danny Rose; Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Dele Alli; Wayne Rooney; Harry Kane
Posted on 25/05/16
The season is over... but no need to panic, Euro 2016 is just a matter of weeks away! In this mini football lull, we have John Barnes in to reflect on 2015/16 and to look ahead to the European Championship in this week’s instalment of his exclusive blog.
It was a great year in which we saw some memorable moments and some truly great football. Leicester claimed the league title, two of England’s biggest teams in Aston Villa and Newcastle were relegated, while an English side, Liverpool, made it to a European final. There’s a lot to talk about, and here are a few big topics:
Overall the main positive for me is the harmony between Jurgen Klopp and the fans. The German has come in and built real bridges between the team and the supporters, and the fans have backed him even when results have been a little underwhelming and have stood by him through a few dubious team selections. Blind faith isn’t the answer for any team, but the patience and willingness to trust Klopp is a recipe for success. On the whole it’s not been a brilliant season though, yet there have been a few standout results peppered in there such as the wins away at Manchester City and Chelsea, which showed the potential of this team.
Philippe Coutinho has been great, but his form has dipped across the season, and inconsistency has been his issue. For me, although not quite Player of the Year material, Lucas has been great. The Brazilian was looking likely to leave last summer, but he’s done what he does best, which is get his head down, work hard and do a job whenever called upon. He’s been shifted from midfield to centre-back and has shown his experience across the campaign, winning over fans for the umpteenth time since he’s been at Anfield. This has had a lot to do with the manager in my opinion - Klopp clearly trusts and likes Lucas.
The relationship between Klopp and the fans. Klopp was jetted in with the season already underway, and I’ve said all along I expect to see real results when he’s had a full pre-season with his players to get them to the right level physically for his style of play, while also being able to add his own signings – Joel Matip is already done and looks to be a statement signing. The fans are on board, and with a positive vibe around the whole club, who knows what’s possible.
Missing out on Champions League qualification is the biggest blow. The chance was there in the league in what has been an open season, but Liverpool couldn’t quite get a run together at the right time to make that leap. Obviously the Europa League then became the main route in, and the club were within 45 minutes off beating Sevilla, winning the trophy and getting spot in the Champions League. Clearly neither came off, and although it’s not the be all and end all in Klopp’s first season, it would have been a massive boost for the manager and the club to be in the competition ahead of schedule. Overall, that second half against Sevilla was the biggest and most fatal blow, though.
Nathaniel Clyne has built on his reputation since coming to Liverpool, and I’ll stick up a bit for Alberto Moreno in that I feel he has improved his game all-round over the campaign. But, for me, Dejan Lovren has been magnificent. He had a bit of a hard time last season and again at the start of the campaign, but I think a few great showings really built his confidence, and Liverpool are really starting to see the player they paid Southampton a lot of money for.
Leicester City. Their performances throughout the season were a breath of fresh air and I’m so glad they were able to get over the line and win the title to cap a fantastic campaign. I thought they’d fall away, but they’ve shown you don’t have to have the most money and all the best players to compete, and their story is one that should inspire a whole group of teams. They typified what football should be about: effort, commitment and desire.
Aston Villa shocked me for all the wrong reasons. I expected them to be competing in mid-table, maybe pushing for a top half finish, so to see them collapse and perform so badly was a massive surprise. The same goes for Newcastle, who, although not to the same extent as the Villans, underperformed and never should have been relegated with the quality they have.
The season just gone will be a flash in the pan. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Leicester’s performances, but I cannot see them doing it again, and it will be even more difficult for similar sides to compete in the immediate future as the big sides will spend money this summer with new managers such as Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola coming to the league.
I’m not too excited. I can understand the hype to an extent, but this England side are still young and will be inconsistent. It’s not fair to expect them to go out and really perform in France, and I think the true test of this squad will be in another two years’ time at the World Cup. I watched the Turkey game and, although we won, there were moments that show the weaknesses in Roy Hodgson’s side. I wasn’t getting carried away when we beat Germany, and that proved to be the right reaction as a few days later we lost to the Netherlands, who won’t even be at Euro 2016. Don’t get me wrong, this England team excites me, but I am more interested in the tournaments of the near future when they’ll have more experience.
Realistically, getting out of the group and maybe through the first knockout phase of the tournament could happen. I can see us negotiating a group with Wales, Russia and Slovakia, and while this team can beat anyone on their day, I think the biggest nations will prove too much when we eventually meet them.
Posted on 17/05/16
Here we go! This week is the big one for Liverpool fans as their side face Sevilla in the Europa League Final – the Merseysiders’ first continental final since 2007. With this being such a huge game we’ve got none other than John Barnes to give his take on the game in this week’s edition of his exclusive blog.
What a week this will be for Liverpool fans. Thousands will travel to Basel to see the Reds in action, knowing that they are just 90 minutes away from a first European trophy since 2005, and the mood is buoyant with Jurgen Klopp at the helm.
There’s no getting away from it, this season has been a difficult one in the league. Alas, it’s a massive achievement to be in the Europa League Final, which, for me, is one of the most difficult competitions to win. The amount of games, the Thursday night matches and the standard of the teams that drop in from the Champions League offer a unique set of circumstances, and Liverpool have not only done well to get to where they are, they’ve done well to negotiate such a tough route. Granted, a side of the Reds’ quality should be getting through the group stage and a last-32 opponent of the likes of FC Augsburg was favourable, but from there to beat Manchester United, Dortmund and a very strong Villarreal side was terrific, and proves they deserve to be travelling to Switzerland.
This will be the game that defines Liverpool’s season. We cannot ignore the fact that the league season has been disappointing – an eighth place finish is far below where the club should be – but that won’t matter if Champions League football is secured via the Europa League. Getting into the top four was always the aim, and winning this competition will bring about the same reward, and the campaign can only really be judged on the overall outcome.
Whereas the result will define Liverpool’s season, it’s not quite the same story in terms of Klopp and his success at the club. Yes, the German has had a lot of time to work with the squad now, but they’re not really his players and there has been no pre-season routine worked in, which is vital for the way he plays the game in terms of intensity and pressing. He’s come in and this is his second final already, but a mid-table finish and no silverware, even through rose-tinted glasses, will be no success story. But, I can’t bring myself to truly judge Klopp yet.
The league season has suffered as a result of the Europa League. Perhaps suffered is actually the wrong word, but it’s clear that Liverpool have been prioritising getting where they are for a few weeks, even months, now, with shadow teams playing in the league to save the first XI for Europe. Perhaps going out earlier would have allowed Liverpool to get further up the table, but it’s understandable that Klopp and his coaches have made the calls they’ve made, and they’ll be vindicated if the team are celebrating with the trophy on Wednesday night!
Sevilla are the opponents on the night, and although they’re not exactly a European superpower, they’re a well-drilled team that work well as a collective, There aren’t really any standout players in their XI, for me, although Kevin Gameiro will be a threat up front, so it’ll be a case of Liverpool working as a team and letting their star quality shine through over the 90, or more, minutes. Sevilla’s season has been a bit like Liverpool’s in terms of this is their only chance of Champions League football – they finished seventh in La Liga – and they have saved their best performances for this tournament. They have experience having won the trophy in both of the last two seasons, but Liverpool, for me, are the better side and should win.
My Liverpool XI: Simon Mignolet; Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Kolo Toure, Alberto Moreno; Emre Can, Lucas Leiva; Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho; Daniel Sturridge.
In terms of creativity on the night, I think Coutinho will be Liverpool’s key player. Having said that, it’s going to be a game that will be all about the team, so Mignolet will be vital in goal, Lovren will need to be at his best at the back, Can will need to provide energy and power in the midfield and Sturridge will need to be his normal dangerous self up front.
Liverpool 2-1 Sevilla
I think Liverpool have enough about them to win this and end the season on a massive high. It won’t be an easy game, finals never are, so it’ll only be a narrow win
First goalscorer – Daniel Sturridge. Other goalscorers – Philippe Coutinho and Kevin Gameiro.
Posted on 10/05/16
The season is almost over. Although Leicester are champions and Liverpool can no longer finish in the top four, there is still plenty to think about for Reds, with a Europa League Final in Basel next week to think about after a momentous win over Villarreal. We have Kop hero John Barnes talking about the big stories at his old club and in the wider footballing world in the latest instalment of his exclusive blog.
Fantastic. That is the one word I would use to sum up Liverpool’s 3-0 win at home to Villarreal last week. The Reds knew what they needed to do after a narrow first leg loss in Spain and were thoroughly impressive as they coasted to a win over a side many tipped to pose them all sorts of problems at Anfield. For me, the performance was not just professional, but was also littered with intensity, desire and determination, and was as close as we’ve seen to a real ‘Jurgen Klopp display’ since his arrival at the club.
Basel awaits next week for the final, and the biggest prize on offer is not the trophy, but Champions League qualification instead. Yes, winning silverware is always nice and the players will benefit from the experience should they be able to overcome Sevilla, but a ticket back to Europe’s prime club competition has been dangling above the cup the whole time, which has made getting this far all the more important. The Champions League is where every top club wants to be, and Liverpool are no different. The difference qualifying could make for Klopp in his first summer at the club, although he won’t dare admit it, would be huge.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Sevilla have won the tournament two seasons on the spin, so they will be no pushovers. A look over at the La Liga table makes it seem as though they are an average team, but they boast some very dangerous players, such as Kevin Gameiro, and have saved their best showings for the Europa League this term. Liverpool shouldn’t be worried about individuals though, as if they cut off the supply to the attackers and test the defensive line with clever movement and pace, they should have enough to get past Sevilla.
Just to look at a ‘what if?’ scenario: winning the Europa League will make this season a success. Granted, the team could finish the Premier League season in 6th, 7th or even 8th, but before a ball was kicked Champions League qualification was the aim, and although it’s been a little unedifying to see Liverpool so far off the top four and completely out of the title race for a while, the Europa League offers the desired end result.
On the subject of Champions League qualification through the league, Manchester United have the momentum now. I think they will go on to get the results they need after Manchester City’s recent slips – including the 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal – as Louis van Gaal’s side are in a relatively good run of form and have shown the sort of nous in the past that they’ll need here. From City’s perspective, missing out on the Champions League would be an absolute disaster, especially for Pep Guardiola!
At the other end of the table I think last weekend’s results sealed the relegation battle. For me, the bottom three will remain as it is, with Norwich and Newcastle joining Aston Villa in the Championship. It’s sad from my perspective to see my old club, Newcastle, in this situation, but they only have themselves to blame for not beating Villa, which was magnified by Sunderland’s excellent comeback against Chelsea.
Finally, England’s provisional Euro 2016 squad will be announced on Thursday, and I’m not expecting any surprises. I think the men included will, on the whole, be the same bunch that were chosen during the last round of friendlies, as I don’t think any left-field candidates have really put forward a serious challenge to the names already in Roy Hodgson’s plans. Of course injuries could see things change a little, but those expecting a shock may be disappointed.
Chelsea 2-0 Leicester
Leicester’s job is done and I think they’ll be playing this one a bit like an exhibition game. Granted, Chelsea don’t have anything to play for either, but I think they have more quality. Goalscorers – Diego Costa and Eden Hazard.
Man Utd 3-0 Bournemouth
Man Utd need the win to keep their top four hopes alive, and I think they’ll get the result they need, which will boost confidence going into the FA Cup Final. Goalscorers – Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.
West Brom 1-1 Liverpool
Liverpool will have the Europa League Final on their mind just a few days later, so I think they will take that into consideration in terms of selection and a desire to stay fit. Goalscorers – Adam Lallana and Salomon Rondon.
Posted on 04/05/16
What a week! Leicester were crowned champions of England to cap the most amazing of seasons at the King Power Stadium, and from a Liverpool perspective the biggest game of their campaign awaits at home to Villarreal. We have John Barnes in to give his views on the talking points in this week’s edition of his exclusive blog...
Here we go. Liverpool face the biggest game of their season on Thursday night against a very good Villarreal side. We all know what a win would mean, and a European cup final – even though it’s not the Champions League – is a massive prize. The first leg didn’t go entirely to plan thanks to that late goal from Adrian Lopez, but if you’d have told me before a ball was kicked that Liverpool would be heading back to Anfield in need of a narrow win to progress, I’d have been content. Not scoring away from home raises it’s own set of potential problems, but this one is far from over.
Jurgen Klopp was clearly happy to go to El Madrigal and get a 0-0 in the first leg, and although that didn’t happen, I think it was the right approach. There’s been a slight feeling of arrogance since the game ,with many suggesting Liverpool should be going to a good side’s home ground and rolling them over. Villarreal are fourth in La Liga, behind only the big three in Spain, and are a very well drilled side, so I would have taken a scoreless draw happily, but the game is still very much alive.
In terms of approaching the return leg, Liverpool have to be clever. There’s a discussion about trying to blitz Villarreal early on and get a few goals to deflate them, but this is a 90 minute game and Liverpool only need to win 1-0 to take it to extra time. The risk of conceding has to be weighed up with needing to net three times - not an ideal situation against Villarreal, who are a good side defensively.
I expect the away side to set up as they did in the first leg. They remind me a little of Atletico Madrid in terms of being extremely well organised and difficult to break down. The central midfielders are likely to sit deep and shield their centre-backs, but the pace of Cedric Bakambu means they will possess a significant counter-attacking threat.
The big controversy from the first leg was Daniel Sturridge not featuring. In terms of this week’s game I would give him the nod. Liverpool need a goal – or more probably goals – and he is the club’s best attacking threat. Alas, Klopp knows more about his fitness than anyone and he will know how he wants to set up on the night. We all have to unite behind the manager, as it’ll be no use for the team on the pitch if there is anything other than a positive atmosphere.
I do think Liverpool will progress. A 3-1 scoreline is my bet, as I think the home side will have too much for Villarreal in terms of quality.
Away from Liverpool, Leicester City’s season has ended in the fairytale fashion we all hoped for – well, unless you’re a Spurs fan! It’s a huge achievement, and even I was shocked when it actually happened, despite having tipped them to do it for a few weeks now. It took right up to the final whistle in the Chelsea vs Spurs game and the announcement that Leicester had won for it to really hit me - and with the way this season was going I was expecting Spurs to get something late against Chelsea and take the fight on. But it’s amazing to see the Foxes do what many thought was impossible. It’s a great achievement, a great message and a great lesson to the so-called ‘lesser’ teams - with the right attitude, commitment and desire anything is possible. I think it will be a one off in terms of a title win, but it shows that it’s not impossible to break through and finish above expectations.
Norwich 1-2 Man United
Unfortunately for Norwich, I think Manchester United will win. I can see the Canaries getting relegated at the end of the season, too. Goalscorers – Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney.
Aston Villa vs Newcastle
I think Newcastle will build on their recent form, and with Aston Villa already relegated the game is there to be won. Goalscorer – Jonjo Shelvey.
Sunderland vs Chelsea
I’ll go for a draw here. I think Sunderland have enough about them to get a point, although we don’t know if that will be enough for them come the end of the season. Goalscorers – Jermain Defoe and Diego Costa.
Posted on 28/04/16
It has been a very big week for Liverpool football club. On the pitch, the Merseyside derby was followed by Rafael Benitez’s return to Anfield and then attention will turn to a Europa League semi final against Villarreal. Off the pitch, there is a cloud over Mamadou Sakho after his alleged positive test for a banned substance and the Hillsborough inquest returned a verdict which vindicated the campaigners and exonerated the fans. John Barnes shares his views on a huge week in his exclusive Titanbet blog.
The vindication of the families of the Hillsborough victims as well the victims themselves was paramount in the verdict this week, but it comes as no surprise given the evidence. It should have happened many years ago.
In terms of football, however, there is always a lot of emotion around Hillsborough and we saw that when Liverpool played Dortmund in the last round of the Europa League. This week, Liverpool will play a European semi final against Villarreal, but Hillsborough will have no bearing on the game itself. Aside from the fact that the game will be determined solely by actions on the pitch, we also have to remember that these players weren’t around when the Hillsborough disaster happened.
It is a game that Liverpool have to win separately to the vindication the fans received this week. So they need to take that game completely in isolation, totally disregard any other incidents and not let emotion cloud the fact that this is a huge European night coming up. That’s not to say the fans can’t show that emotion, but the players need to focus on the game, not the occasion.
If winning the Europa League didn’t come with a place in the big competitions, I’d rather Liverpool lost that and came fourth. But the big carrot for any club in the Europa League is the Champions League spot.
It’s strange to say that finishing 6th in the league could still end up being a good season for Liverpool, but that Champions League place would make all the difference. After all, it’s the same as finishing in the top four and winning silverware, which really would be a great season.
It’s important that Liverpool keep going in the league to try to get that fourth spot, though. They can’t rely on the Europa League just yet. Villarreal isn’t key to the season, but a Europa League final would be key if they were to get there. For the moment, every game matters because you can’t just rely on winning one game. It’s important to think that way so as not to get too carried away - Liverpool don’t want to be 3-1 down to Villarreal and have to come back like they did against Dortmund, regardless of how good the performance was.
But whilst the Champions League is important for the club, Liverpool should not judge Jurgen Klopp too harshly whether they win silverware or not, or whether they finish in the Champions League or not. I’ve said all along that I’ll only judge him after he’s had a pre-season. The focus should be on the long term. Rather than thinking it is a must for Liverpool to be in the Champions League next season, the club should be thinking about how to keep Liverpool challenging regularly and getting into the Champions League regularly. They may not be in the Champions League next season, but so long as they keep making progress that’s positive.
That’s not to say Liverpool won’t push with all they have to be in it next season. Klopp won’t play a reserve side against Swansea at the weekend - he’ll rest players depending on their level of fitness after Thursday night, but the team he puts out should still be good enough to win the game. We saw a ‘weakened’ side play so well against Bournemouth and Swansea are also in a position where they have nothing to play for, but Klopp still needs a result to keep up the possibility of finishing in the top four.
Away from the pitch, and the Mamadou Sakho situation will get lots of people talking about doping in football generally. Without referring specifically to the Sakho case, because we don’t really know anything about it, we have to remember that football is a team game.
The pressures of individual sports - athletics and to a certain extent cycling where the glory is often individual even if there are teams - perhaps makes those sports more susceptible to doping problems. In a team game, the advantage isn’t as great; you have 10 other teammates and you’re relying on them to help you out. So the advantage you gain from the drugs aren’t as great as the advantage you get if you’re only relying on yourself. It’s better to foster a great team spirit.
Leicester City, this season, have that team spirit, and they now have the title in their grasp and they’ll be worthy champions. Obviously they’re not over the line yet, but it would really be something if they lost it now. I do think they’ll lose this weekend to Manchester United, but I think Tottenham will also lose to Chelsea, so I think they’ll wrap it up this weekend. They won’t win it again next season, though they won’t lose too many of their players, but they’ve given the rest of the league the belief that they can compete. Not necessarily win the league, but at least compete if you have the right attitude.
The relegation battle is also coming to a head, with any two from three going to drop - and I think it’ll be Norwich and my old club Newcastle, unfortunately.
Arsenal vs Norwich
Score: 3-0, Goalscorers: Ozil, Sanchez (2)
Man United vs Leicester
Score: 2-1, Goalscorer: Martial
Chelsea vs Spurs
Score: 2-1, Goalscorers: Hazard, Willian, Kane
Posted on 19/04/16
The weeks just seem to be getting bigger and bigger for Liverpool, and Premier League teams as a whole, and the Reds have been on a rollercoaster over the last seven days. That game at home to Dortmund will go down in Anfield folklore, and after the Bournemouth match at the weekend the little matter of the Merseyside Derby awaits Jurgen Klopp and his team. As ever, we have John Barnes here to talk about the big stories.
What a great night last Thursday was. To go 3-1 down in the second half and be in need of three goals against one of the better teams in Europe was not an enviable position for Liverpool. But, as we all know now, they came back, and Dejan Lovren’s late, late header has sparked debate over the match’s place in the all-time great European games in the club’s history. For me it’s still some way from Istanbul, as coming back from 3-0 down against one of the best sides on the planet in AC Milan is, arguably, the biggest result in club football and may never be beaten, but I suppose even having to have this conversation just shows how lucky Liverpool fans have been in terms of great nights of continental football.
As I alluded to before, the mentality on show was spectacular. Many teams would have been dead and buried in such circumstances against a team of Dortmund’s quality, but the resolve in this Reds team is admirable. I won’t get too carried away as Jurgen Klopp, for all that he’s done in terms of breeding belief, saw his team surrender a two goal lead to lose 3-2 at Southampton not so long ago, and I want to see consistency from the team. For me that will come when the manager has had a full pre-season and has players he has brought to the club, so 2016/17 is where we can really start assessing this team.
The draw puts Liverpool against Villarreal in the last four, and although the Spaniards will not be pushovers, it’s hard to not think about winning the competition at this stage. There are only a maximum of three games left in the tournament, and although a bad 45 minutes can be destructive, Klopp’s team have beaten two of the strongest sides in Man United and Dortmund, so they should be full of confidence.
The games just keep on rolling, with Everton up next. Although Liverpool are not in direct competition with the Toffees in any way this season, this one remains a massive game. Bragging rights are big in the city, so going into work on Thursday morning will be a lot easier for fans of the winning side, and that transmits to the players from the stands. It’s a difficult game to assess because semi-finals in the FA Cup and Europa League for each side in the days following remain bigger for both, but there’s no way that either manager can get away with playing a weakened team in such a big match.
Away from Liverpool, the title race took a little twist last weekend as Leicester showed their first sign of a wobble with dropped points at home to West Ham. I still think they’ll hold on and get over the line, and even though the Hammers match ended in a draw instead of a win, the heart the Foxes showed to battle back having lost a 1-0 lead to draw 2-2 even with Jamie Vardy sent off is massive. Obviously Spurs are in great form and took full advantage, and four games can change a lot in a season, so there is still drama left.
Sticking with the battle at the top, it was no surprise to see the PFA Player of the Year award nominees dominated by Leicester and Spurs. Four of the six names came from the top two, and, for me, it’s between Vardy and Harry Kane for the big prize. Vardy perhaps edges it now as Leicester are in the lead and his goals have been key in what they’ve achieved, but likewise Kane has a real shout if Spurs can overhaul their rivals as he’s been netting regularly under a great deal of pressure.
Leicester 2-0 Swansea
I think Leicester will win. Swansea are not quite safe and have little to play for, but Claudio Ranieri’s team have to get all three points for their title hopes. Goalscorer – Leonardo Ulloa.
Spurs vs West Brom
Spurs are playing brilliantly at the moment and I think it’ll be a repeat of the game at Stoke in terms of domination and scoring. They have the pressure of needing the result, but they’ve shown they can handle that. Goalscorers – Harry Kane and Erik Lamela.
Everton vs Man United (FA Cup)
I think Manchester United will get to the final. They were great last time out against West Ham (in the replay) and I think they have the experience and know-how in the biggest games. Everton will come into this game on the back of the Merseyside Derby, too. Goalscorers – Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku.
Posted on 13/04/16
Another big week for Liverpool lies ahead, with, arguably, the game that will define their season on the agenda in the shape of Dortmund at home in the Europa League. Ahead of this we have Kop hero John Barnes to give his view on all things red, as well as the wider Premier League situation...
I think Liverpool will beat Dortmund and progress. 2-1. There. I’ve got it out there early. Yes, Dortmund are perhaps on paper a better side than Liverpool, but that away leg was one that has served to be a great source of optimism among the Reds’ supporters. The way in which Jurgen Klopp’s side nullified the Germans’ considerable threats and came away with a vital away goal isn’t far away from what even the most ‘glass half full’ supporter could have wished for, and it allows the Merseysiders to be a little more reactive at Anfield.
We’ve seen this season that Klopp’s teams can take a game in which they play better opposition and work on the counter-attack in their stride, and Dortmund will have to attack them at some point, so the blueprint for success is there. It’s a case of keeping things tight and seeing how the match develops, which is a positive. However, it’s an evenly poised tie and one goal could change it all.
The big question heading into the 90 minutes is: Divock Origi or Daniel Sturridge up front? Both players have their positive and negative ‘baggage’, but I would be looking to use the young Belgian. Sturridge may be a better player in an all-round sense, yet the game will be one in which Liverpool’s attack may grow slightly isolated and be called upon to run the channels, occupy defenders and provide an outlet, and Origi is good at those jobs. I do, however, expect to see Sturridge at some point in the evening, but it’s worth remembering that Liverpool still need to be careful with him as they look to ensure he stays fit.
Moving from the future to the (recent) past, Liverpool were excellent against Stoke in a fairly experimental game on Sunday– I think they played three or four different formations on the afternoon at various stages. I can’t get carried away due to the inconsistency we’ve seen from the team all season, but there were lots of positives to look at, and it’s a sign that this Klopp team can beat opposition, no disrespect to Stoke, that it should be putting aside easily.
One big talking point was the performance of Sheyi Ojo. The 18-year-old only played the first 45 minutes, but the way he set up Sturridge’s goal has already got tongues wagging. John Aldridge wrote in his Liverpool Echo column that the winger could save Klopp millions of pounds in the transfer window this summer, and although I agree to an extent – he’ll be a good squad player – it’s early to be putting such pressure on him.
Away from Liverpool, Leicester made a top four finish a certainty with their win over Sunderland. The story on the day may have been their continued title push, but getting into Europe’s top competition is a MASSIVE achievement, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in the tournament. Their progress next season hinges on what sort of draw they get, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t aim towards reaching the knockout phase.
At the other end of the table Newcastle lost again, leaving their survival hopes dangling by a thread. Some are already saying that Rafael Benitez took on more than he could really cope with, but, for me, he had to take the job. Could a Pep Guardiola or even a Jose Mourinho save Newcastle at such late notice? It’s hard to tell, so I don’t think what’s happening there is a fair reflection of Benitez as a manager.
Norwich 1-1 Sunderland
This is a game neither can afford to lose and really is the cliched ‘six pointer’. As such I think it’ll end up as a draw, with both teams afraid of the consequences of not getting something. Goalscorers - Jermain Defoe and Dieumerci Mbokani.
Newcastle 2-1 Swansea
I think Newcastle will win, because they have to win. Swansea are safe in mid-table after beating Chelsea so they’ll have little to play for, which will help the home side. Goalscorers – Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre Ayew.
Leicester 1-1 West Ham
Leicester chasing the title may be the talking point, but West Ham themselves have the top four to play for and really need a win to keep that fight alive. I think both sides will cancel each other out. Goalscorers – Jamie Vardy and Andy Carroll.
Posted on 06/04/16
The big one is here: Dortmund vs Liverpool in the Europa League. With the Reds having slipped out of the top four race, the continental competition is the main goal for the Merseyside club, and we’ve got Kop hero John Barnes talking about the match in this week’s edition of his exclusive blog.
Dortmund vs Liverpool – this is a big match. Jurgen Klopp goes back to his old side, the Reds take on one of the best teams in Europe, a win is a step closer to Champions League qualification… there really are plenty of talking points ahead of the trip to Germany. Of course the main talking will be done on the pitch over the 180 minutes (potentially more), and the first leg for Liverpool is all about getting a result to keep the tie firmly alive. Spurs showed with a 3-0 loss at Dortmund in the last round that a game against such a good side can quickly escape your grasp, so I’m hoping for a win, although a draw or a narrow defeat with an away goal would be positive too. Scoring in Signal Iduna Park could be a big factor, but if I were Klopp I wouldn’t sacrifice defence for attack, with a 2-1 loss much more favourable than a 5-2 defeat, for example.
We cannot get away from the Klopp vs Dortmund angle. The German, and English, media are going overboard on the subject, with talk of ‘Klopp cam’ doing the rounds ahead of coverage of the game in his homeland. Yes, the factor of his first return to the club he helped to make so great is one that will dominate headlines, but both sides will know that this game is about much more. After all, a win for Liverpool could take them a step closer to Champions League qualification, so I’m sure Klopp will be telling his players to play the game, not the occasion.
In terms of a team for the game I’d be inclined to go as STRONG as possible. Forget any late curveballs or looking to nullify Dortmund’s threats, Liverpool need to get their best XI out there and give their opponents something to think about.
My XI: Simon Mignolet; Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno; Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, James Milner; Roberto Firmino/Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho; Daniel Sturridge.
Back to domestic matters, Saturday’s draw against Spurs was as full of positives as negatives. To draw the game at home having been ahead is a bit galling, but it can’t be forgotten that this Spurs team are title contenders and are in great form. Next season I would like to see Klopp’s side turn these sorts of games into wins – that’s what’s needed for a top four, perhaps even title, push – and over the 90 minutes it was clear that the Reds are not far away from being able to do that.
Harry Kane’s continued good form made me think. The Spurs man has been an ever-present for the London club this season and has banged in the goals, and had Liverpool been able to field Daniel Sturridge for even 90% f the season, the Merseysiders could be up there with Tottenham. For me, Sturridge is a better all-round striker than Kane.
West Ham 1-2 Arsenal
Spurs’ draw last week gives Arsenal some hope in the title race. If they win their game in hand and keep up their current form they can close the gap between them and Spurs to one point, and Leicester are not far enough ahead of them to make it impossible. On that basis I think they’ll beat a good West Ham team. Goalscorers – Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck.
Sunderland 1-0 Leicester
I think Sunderland will cause a shock and win this one. They need the win to keep their survival hopes alive and with Sam Allardyce in charge, they’ll have the nous for it. Goalscorer – Jermain Defoe.
Spurs 1-1 Man United
As was the case last week for Spurs, they’re up against a good side and one that, on their day, is their equal. Man United are hot and cold, but in the big games they’ve performed this season. Goalscorers - Harry Kane and Anthony Martial
Posted on 01/04/16
It’s been an international week of ups and downs for England, who beat the world champions, Germany, before losing to a side that won’t even be at Euro 2016, the Netherlands. Friendlies often pose as many questions as they provide answers, but luckily we’ve got ex-Three Lion John Barnes in for this week’s instalment of his exclusive blog to have his say...
What did we learn from Germany 2-3 England and England 1-2 the Netherlands? Anyone? Well, for me the big lesson is that England remain inconsistent. Although we breezed through qualifying for Euro 2016 with a 100% record, we’ve lost friendlies along the way, and once again the last week has shown that results are not a given for this side. Inconsistency has been the way of the current Premier League season, so it’s understandable that the national side is dealing with the same issue, and with a young team it has to be expected. I’ve said all along that the 2018 World Cup is the big one for this group as by the time the tournament comes around many of the new generation will have more experience, and I stand by that now.
One of the more interesting debates surrounds the striker situation. With Wayne Rooney out it was a chance for the other names available to Roy Hodgson to put their case forward, and I think Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy certainly seized the chance. For me it will be Rooney and one other leading the England team in France, with my money being on Kane to partner him given his current form. Vardy, although he scored two in two, remains behind Daniel Sturridge, too, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have a role to play!
At the other end of the pitch John Stones came in for some criticism. His slip led to the Netherlands’ equalising penalty at Wembley, and many have once again accused him of doing too much. I for one won’t be getting carried away with the negativity in the same way I didn’t get swept up by the hype surrounding the Everton man. He’s a very talented young defender, and these things happen with inexperience. We need to let Stones develop without the pressure being heaped upon him now.
Off the pitch Roy Hodgson’s future has once again been discussed by some. The experienced manager will be out of contract after Euro 2016, and there is already some debate as to whether he’s the right man to lead this young side into the future. However, the FA cannot afford to make a decision yet, with the outcome of the competition this summer the deciding factor. Do well (semi-finals, final or perhaps winning it) and it’s hard to argue against him staying on, but questions will have to be asked if it’s another World Cup 2014 saga.
As is the case when international football is dominating the on pitch headlines, transfer rumours have been swirling domestically. My old club Liverpool have been linked with Mario Gotze and I for one would love to see him at Anfield. His relationship with Jurgen Klopp is a trump card for the Reds, so if there’s even the slimmest chance of getting a deal done then the club have to go for it. Should Liverpool back Klopp and get a player that is clearly one he wants it’ll be a real signal of intent going forward.
Before I sign off with some weekend predictions, I think Aston Villa deserve a mention. Hidden in among the international football stories, the Villans parted company with Remi Garde in an admission that relegation is now certain. Some fear that a Leeds or Wigan-esque tumble through the divisions could follow, but I don’t fear for them in the same way I have for others, and hopefully the parachute payments will mean they can rebuild and make a push for a Premier League return.
Liverpool 1-1 Spurs
Spurs will be going for this as they look to close the gap on Leicester at the top of the table, but Liverpool are just as good as their opponents., even if the table doesn’t say so. Goalscorers – Daniel Sturridge and Harry Kane.
Leicester 1-1 Southampton
Leicester have been getting a lot of 1-0 wins of late, but Southampton have really turned things around over the last month or so, so I can see them cancelling each other out. Goalscorers – Jamie Vary and Graziano Pelle.
Man United 2-1 Everton
Everton have been awful at the back and don’t have much to play for in the league, but Man United are still in with a shot at fourth, so I can see that motivation being the difference. Goalscorers - Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku.
Posted on 23/03/16
Aaaaand breathe. After a hectic schedule of European and league football, domestic action takes a break, leaving us with the fate of England in their upcoming friendlies with Germany and the Netherlands to look at. On the back of Liverpool’s collapse at Southampton and ahead of the Three Lions’ matches, we have a man who starred for both in John Barnes to give his thoughts...
2-0 up and half-time at Southampton, it looked nailed-on Liverpool would win, after all, the Reds have been playing well of late. But, 45 minutes later Jurgen Klopp, his players and the fans were left wondering how it all went wrong as the 3-2 scoreline in favour of the Saints hit home. For me this was just symptomatic of the season as a whole – not just for Liverpool, but most clubs in the Premier League. Inconsistency has been the order of the campaign, and we’re now a long way from seasons in which we’ve seen the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea run away with the title, losing just a handful of games along the way.
Dragging it back to a Liverpool perspective, I think the loss was understandable. Don’t get me wrong, I always want to see my old club win, yet with Klopp’s tenure having been a balancing act of two games a week, injuries and players tiring, these sorts of results just happen. It means that it can be hit and miss. We’ve seen the hits against Manchester City (twice) and Chelsea, but there have been misses, like Southampton on Sunday and away at Watford.
Since Sunday there have been rumours and reports of Klopp having lost patience with his players following the result, which could have a big bearing on the summer’s transfer business. For me, I don’t think he will use Southampton away as the barometer for who he wants to keep or sell, as he’s now been at the club since October and has been working with these players day in, day out. One man who has been heavily linked with a transfer is Christian Benteke, and it’s clear to see that he’s not Klopp’s favourite attacking player. However, it’s not just a case of moving him on, Liverpool will need to find a club interested enough in him to pay a good fee and cover his wages, while Benteke himself will have to want to make the move, and as well as all of this a replacement will be needed.
Last week saw Liverpool draw Dortmund in the Europa League in a game some are already dubbing ‘El Kloppico’ given the manager’s ties with the German side. In my opinion Dortmund are the best team left in the competition, but I wouldn’t say I’m nervous about the game, in fact I’m just as excited as I am apprehensive. Anyway, the Europa League shouldn’t be the sole priority for the club, with the top four not yet impossible – there are 27 points still available, after all!
Moving away from Liverpool now, England action is on the menu for the coming week. Two games with Germany and the Netherlands await, and they may give us an idea of just where Roy Hodgson’s side are looking towards the European Championships. The 2-0 loss in Spain last year was a marker that this team are not among the favourites for the tournament and Germany will prove to be as big of a test as that one. I can see the Netherlands game being a useful one for drawing conclusions though, so it will be interesting to see how we get on.
With Wayne Rooney injured, the striking selection looks interesting. For me the choice is between Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge to partner Rooney in France this summer, and on form you’d have to give the Spurs man the nod. However, I consider a fully fit Sturridge to be the best English striker, and I just hope he can be ready for the tournament.
The overall squad selection got some negative attention last week. Many have cried ‘big club bias’, with Mark Noble’s exclusion in particular drawing attention. Although the West Ham man has been good this season, he’ll be 29 soon and this England side needs to build for the future with the 2018 World Cup the important one on the horizon. In terms of players from big clubs being selected, the best players often play for the bigger clubs, so I don’t see that as being a stick with which we can beat Hodgson.
Germany 1-1 England
England 2-1 Netherlands
Posted on 15/03/16
It’s been a huge week in football, with a lot of the big stories involving England hero John Barnes’ old clubs. Liverpool beat Manchester United in the teams’ first ever European meeting, Newcastle appointed Rafael Benitez as their new manager and Watford edged past Arsenal to book a spot in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. And we have the man himself to give his verdict on what’s been going on.
Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United. What a fantastic performance from the home side. For me it was Liverpool’s best all-round display of the season so far, with their ability to control the game from start to finish answering some of the questions posed by their counter-attacking win at Manchester City back in November. Before last Thursday, that was the standout showing, but for me the way Jurgen Klopp’s side controlled the match against a good Man United unit showed that the ceiling is much higher than some had initially suspected for this squad. The only disappointment, if you can call it that, was not getting more than two, as with the number of chances made during the evening it could have been a lot worse for the travelling team.
Such a win in the first leg offers Klopp a wealth of options for the return trip to Old Trafford. Of course he can set his side up to go for the throat as one goal means that Man United will need to score at least four, but I think it’ll be a little more cagey. All Liverpool need to do is keep it tight and with the counter-attacking prowess in the team, they should carry enough threat to get through.
Interestingly the game at Anfield was the first time that Klopp has really been able to field what one suspects is his best XI. Although the performance was mightily impressive, those suggesting that changes this summer are no longer needed may be getting a little carried away. I think Klopp will know that he needs three or four new faces, and the move for Joel Matip, for me, is an indication that he’s ready to mould the squad.
Moving away from Liverpool, the big news was Newcastle’s decision to sack Steve McClaren and bring in Rafael Benitez. I’m not going to get drawn into whether or not it was right to get rid of McClaren, but in Benitez, the Magpies have got a superb manager. I think they would have stayed up without the change, but getting the Spaniard in, for me, solidifies that. Benitez will improve the team defensively, and in players like Georginio Wijnaldum, Newcastle have the attacking quality needed to dodge the drop.
Before I finish, just a word on Watford. Before a ball was kicked many believed the Hornets would be relegation fodder, but this season has shown the quality of the players and the power of their spirit. A trip to Wembley and guaranteed safety in the league is more than any fan would have wished for, and with just one game against Crystal Palace separating them from the final, who knows how the season will end!
Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool – Europa League
It’ll be a tight game and Liverpool will be happy to just keep their advantage from the first leg. I think the away side will have too much against a Man United team that won’t be overly high on confidence. Goalscorers – Anthony Martial and Philippe Coutinho.
Everton 1-1 Arsenal – Premier League
Everton have got the bit between their teeth after the FA Cup win over Chelsea, but this is a must-win match for Arsenal if they still have any hopes of challenging for the title. I think they will balance one another out on the day, though. Goalscorers – Romelu Lukaku and Olivier Giroud.
Newcastle 1-0 Sunderland – Premier League
A real test for Benitez in his first home game, but I think he’ll have the team drilled enough by the time this comes around. For me Newcastle have more quality than Sunderland in their XI, and that should show over 90 minutes. Goalscorer – Aleksandar Mitrovic
Man City 2-1 Man Utd – Premier League
Man City have not been playing well at all and Man Utd have been struggling, so this is a hard game to call. That said, I do think home advantage will get Manuel Pellegrini’s side through. Goalscorers – Sergio Aguero and Jesse Lingard.
Posted on 09/03/16
For the first time ever Liverpool and Manchester United are set to meet in European action after being drawn together in the last 16 of the Europa League. Ahead of this historic occasion we’ve got John Barnes, who played in a few memorable clashes against the Reds’ big rivals during his time, to give his view in this week’s instalment of his exclusive weekly blog.
Liverpool vs. Manchester United is always a massive game. The two teams have spent large sections of recent history as the top sides in English football, so when the balls came out of the pot putting them together in European action for the first time ever there was, naturally, a great deal of excitement. Although the game is of course another edition of the big rivalry between the clubs, in my playing days these matches were just like any other. In fact, when I was first at Liverpool the big games were against Everton, who were our great rivals at the top of the league! I think the players now will feel like I, and my team-mates, felt at that time when they get out on the pitch, with the same challenges facing them as they are set against other sides. It does, however, mean a lot, especially to the fans who will want local bragging rights.
The European context offers a new angle. The two legs will make it a little different for both teams heading into the game, but I’m not expecting a cagey continental tie. Both sets of players know all about one another and with this being a British game I expect some frantic, high-tempo football with challenges going in and slick play.
Liverpool are in the odd position of having no game in between both legs of the United clash. Chelsea’s place in the FA Cup means that their clash with the Blues has been postponed, but Louis van Gaal’s team have not been afforded the same luxury as they take on West Ham in the cup. I can’t see it being an issue for them in terms of recovery between Sunday and Thursday evening, but I’m sure Jurgen Klopp will be happy with the extra time on the training pitch!
Interestingly ahead of the first game at Anfield, Daniel Sturridge has had a week and a half of rest. It was unusual to see him stay on the bench when Liverpool were chasing a win at Crystal Palace, but he should be fully rested and fit for Thursday. As long as he’s match-ready I’d be looking to throw him into the starting XI, as he’s a big player and this is a big match. With Roberto Firmino behind him I think he’ll get chances and a good result at home will be positive going to Old Trafford.
Is the Europa League winnable for Liverpool? Of course it is. That said, there is a long way to go and there are 15 other teams that will fancy their chances, with United firmly among them after dropping in from the Champions League. I don’t doubt that Klopp’s side have the ability to go all the way, but in cup competition even 30 minutes of being off the pace can be destructive.
Liverpool 1-1 Man United – Europa League
This will be a close game and I think both teams will be content with a draw going into the second leg. Goalscorers – Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata
Posted on 03/03/16
Defeat in the Capital One Cup final was a bitter one for Liverpool, losing on the lottery of penalties, but a return to league action straight away gave the Reds a chance to bounce back. And bounce back they did with a magnificent 3-0 victory over Manchester City. John Barnes reflects on Liverpool’s revenge with a midweek victory and what the future holds for Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp in his exclusive blog.
Victory over Manchester City avenged the hurt caused by such a narrow defeat in the cup final, but we still have to remember that Liverpool came into the league game against City in the bottom half of the table. The win took them back into the top half, but there’s still a lot of work to do and Liverpool are still far too inconsistent.
Jurgen Klopp came into the club in the middle of the season, so he didn’t really have the ability to work with the players and implement his strategy. I’d be more critical of him next season after he’s had a month or so to work with the players in pre-season, but we’ve seen them play well against Arsenal, against Chelsea, against Manchester City, yet lose to Watford and Crystal Palace, but that’s understandable at the moment - he’s a very good manager, but he’s not a magician.
Wednesday night’s performance was brilliant, but you can’t get carried away with one result. The result leaves Liverpool only six points off the top four, and if they win their game in hand they could only be three points off the Champions League spots if City also lose their game in hand. If City and United and the teams above Liverpool start losing their games and Liverpool start winning theirs, then the top four is possible.
Although there’s cause for optimism, given the bad performances at times this season, Jurgen Klopp will need that pre-season not just to work with the players, but to bring in new ones too. Manchester City and Arsenal, for example, have better squads than Liverpool, so clearly they do need an overhaul in order to gain that consistency. Not a complete overhaul, but certainly three or four players who will go straight into the team.
What is positive, though, is the good performances in the last two games against City. Sometimes you can play well and lose or play badly and win, but if you consistently play well, you will win more than you lose, and that’s what’s important for Liverpool now - consistency. Good performances will lead to good results.
Winning the Europa League would be another route into the Champions League, but you can’t prioritise competitions either. Liverpool have been drawn with Manchester United in an exciting draw for fans, but when you play Premier League teams in European competition you can never tell what’s going to happen. Lose to United and they’re out of the Europa League, so prioritising competitions is a dangerous business. Liverpool need to focus on winning all their games - that’s what will bring success in all competitions.
And a good end to the season would also lead up to an exciting summer. Players like Christian Benteke and Simon Mignolet have come in for criticism, but I’m less interested in thinking about players leaving the club and more excited about the players coming in. Liverpool will be bringing Joel Matip to the club in the summer, and if he turns into a commanding centre back for the club, perhaps that will solve the goalkeeping problem, too - with a commanding centre back, Mignolet should be exposed less, and I think Matip can be that player for Liverpool next season. But a team like Liverpool should be looking for quality all over the pitch, and if a great player becomes available they should be trying to bring him in and with a manager like Klopp he would be trusted to get the best out of that player.
Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal
It’s the game of the weekend, this one. The North London clubs are fighting it out for the title and there are some good players on show. But with the game being at White Hart Lane, I think that Tottenham will grab the win. Tight, but 2-1 with Alexis Sanchez scoring for Arsenal and two goals for Harry Kane for Spurs.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool
Palace are struggling - they haven’t won in 12 league matches since they beat Stoke on December 19th. Liverpool, on the other hand, need to continue their good form - and I think they can.
West Brom 0-1 Manchester United
West Brom are now safe after their win over Crystal Palace last week, and Manchester United are on a good run of form after their defeats to Midtjylland and Sunderland. They have now won four in a row in all competitions, and I expect them to make that five on Sunday.
Posted on 24/02/16
The big weekend for Liverpool and Manchester City fans is here, with the Capital One Cup Final due to kick off on Sunday. The first chance of the season to win silverware on the Wembley turf is always one that teams and fans relish, and we’ve got John Barnes, who won the competition in 1995 with Liverpool, talking about the clash in this week’s instalment of his exclusive blog.
Wembley awaits. I have, as have many other Liverpool fans, been thinking about this game for weeks, and with the big day edging ever closer I do believe the men in red are in with a good shout. For me, the team have shown real signs of progress of late and with Daniel Sturridge back, there have been glimpses of what he, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho can do together in terms of creating chances and scoring goals.
Jurgen Klopp will be excited, too. The German only arrived in October, but he already has a chance to win a cup, which is always massive for the fans. Supporters will be hoping for a win at all costs, it’s been four years since the last piece of silverware, but I think Klopp will be more interested in the performance of his team and the type of football they play in a high-pressure environment rather than winning at all costs. Liverpool need to be playing better football on a consistent basis, and I would take an encouraging performance over winning a trophy and letting the season ebb away with the same problems as have been shown so far.
Of course a huge source of optimism is that 4-1 win at the Etihad Stadium in November. On the day, Adam Lallana, Coutinho and Firmino pulled City apart with their movement and passing, so there has been talk among fans that Klopp should go for the same approach again, even though Sturridge is back available. However, I can’t see this happening, as long as he’s fit on the day Sturridge has to play. For me, you put your best players out on the pitch every time and I’m sure he would have played in the 4-1 game had he been available.
Looking at the game from City’s point of view, it’s just as big for them as Liverpool. Okay, the title race remains open and the Champions League is still a concern for them, but right now the Capital One Cup is their best chance of a trophy this season. Manuel Pellegrini will want to go out on a high this summer, and having a cup will help that cause. In fact, I don’t think they can be considered favourites for any other competition they remain in; had City been top of the league I would see this as a sideshow for them, but that’s not the case.
I see the form and togetherness Liverpool have displayed recently as encouraging and am expecting a good, tight game. Finals are always an ‘on the day’ occasion, but the Manchester side boast more experience in this competition and in big games than Liverpool. With a heavy heart, I think Manchester City have got to be considered favourites for this one.
Liverpool 1-2 Man City
I think it’s going to be an open game and I can see a few goals. Both teams will want to attack and it’s a big, wide pitch at Wembley, which will help that. The last match between the two teams was open and although I can’t see there being five goals again, I do think there will be some great football on show. Goalscorers – Daniel Sturridge, Sergio Aguero (x2).
Posted on 18/02/16
Liverpool find themselves in the bizarre situation of having a free weekend coming up, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to talk about, with a 6-0 hammering of Aston Villa, Daniel Sturridge’s return and the Europa League all on the agenda. We have Anfield and England legend John Barnes in the house to go over it all in this week’s instalment of his exclusive blog.
Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool. Let’s just ignore the fact the Villans are bottom of the league and in real trouble now and look at this from the perspective of the visiting side. Of course we have to caveat it with the quality of the opposition to a degree, but the performance from Liverpool was fantastic and was certainly full of positives. The biggest plus point for me was Daniel Sturridge’s continued return following his cameo in the FA Cup last week. He scored the opening goal and looked a real threat until he was taken off in the second half – perhaps to keep him wrapped in cotton wool – and we all saw just what the club have been missing with him out of action in that time. It’s easy to over-hype absent players, but Sturridge’s movement and goal threat transformed how Jurgen Klopp’s side operated in the final third, with a greater belief from not just the striker, but his teammates, too. With Sturridge it’s not all about his individual quality, but the confidence he supplies, with other players aware that as long as he’s around even a half chance can result in a goal. Philippe Coutinho really benefitted from having the burden lifted from his shoulders, and I think his performance at Villa Park really showed that.
Naturally, some have been speculating about where this Liverpool team would be in the league had Sturridge not missed so many games. It’s hard to argue that they would not be a little higher due to the goals he brings, but it’s all hypothetical. All I want to see is the player fit for the rest of the season and a real focus on where we’ll finish, rather than what could have happened.
Even though the League Cup Final is glistening on the horizon, there’s the little matter of a two-legged Europa League tie with Augsburg to contend with first. The German side may not be well-known in England, but they deserve respect after their performances in a competitive Bundesliga last term and their successful qualification for the last 32. There’s an argument that Liverpool should go really strong tonight and hope to all but secure a spot in the next round and leave, in effect, a ‘free game’ ahead of Wembley in just over a week’s time. However, I can’t see Klopp going all out, and am expecting to see a balance between a will to win and knowledge that things could easily go wrong with an injury or two.
Even though the January window is closed, Liverpool cannot be kept out of the transfer headlines. Joel Matip’s move to Anfield this summer has been sealed, and I for one am excited about seeing him in the Red shirt. He’s a very good defender with strength and pace, and getting him on a free transfer really is great business. We’ll see in the summer the extent that the club are willing to back Klopp, though.
Just before I finish with the previews of the games ahead, I just wanted to talk Newcastle. It’s been a poor season and that result against Chelsea (5-1 loss) was disastrous, but I think the club have enough to avoid the drop. The home support will be key, as teams don’t like going to a raucous St James’ Park.
Arsenal 2-0 Hull
Hull are flying high in the Championship and playing well. I think that’s what they’ll be more interested in, with promotion so important, so I expect to see Arsenal go through.
Watford 3-0 Leeds
Watford should look to target a cup run now. Good league form means they’re safe from relegation, but qualification for Europe is a big ask. I can see them really going for this against a Leeds side not exactly setting the Championship alight.
Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City
An interesting game, this one. Manchester City have Champions League and the League Cup Final following the game and Chelsea have looked a better side in recent weeks. I can see them cancelling one another out and taking this to a replay.
Posted on 11/02/16
As ever, it’s been a big week for Liverpool. The dramatic 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland was followed by an extra-time FA Cup exit at the hands of West Ham, while elsewhere in the Premier League Leicester really put themselves forward as title contenders. We have ex-Anfield and England hero John Barnes in place to go through the big stories in this week’s edition of his weekly blog.
Another week, another two games for Liverpool. The Sunderland match saw a disappointing dropping of points from what looked like a winning position, and Tuesday night followed with FA Cup defeat at the hands of West Ham. Angelo Ogbonna’s late, late header was a real hammer blow in the game, but since then fans and pundits have been speculating that elimination is actually a positive for the Reds. I don’t like going out of competitions and subscribe to the view that winning breeds the right sort of mentality, so I can’t buy into this. Confidence is what’s needed at Anfield, and a cup run would surely have helped with that, especially given that the League Cup has been so fruitful so far. Perhaps it will prove to be a blessing in disguise – Leicester playing in only the Premier League may be a factor in their place at the top – but I’d rather be watching a Liverpool team winning games.
This leads neatly onto a worry I have from the West Ham game: playing well but not getting the result. On the whole, Liverpool were the better side at Upton Park. The way the travelling, and heavily rotated, team played was encouraging and the chances created were good. However, it was a case of the same old story to an extent, with opportunities not taken and soft goals conceded. So often of late Liverpool haven’t turned domination into results.
The return of Daniel Sturridge could help with this, though. The injury-hit striker played almost the equivalent of a full match after coming on as a second half substitute and looked bright. He’s a quality player and quality players will always make those around them look better. I think this was reflected in Christian Benteke’s performance. Okay, the Belgian missed some chances, but I think his all-round game improved with Sturridge near him, so I’m not bothered about him not scoring that one-on-one. He’s getting into the right positions and goals will come.
Moving away from Liverpool, I need to backtrack slightly on what I said last week. I was a bit negative on Leicester’s title chances, but that win at Manchester City was big. For a long time I’ve tipped City to win the league, as many others have, so the manner of that 3-1 victory for Claudio Ranieri’s side could have major repercussions come the end of the season. Now Leicester have to keep grounded and not be lured into a false sense of security. Arsenal this weekend is a huge game for them, but after that they’ll be playing mid-table teams people are expecting them to beat. Maintaining motivation will decide if they win the division or not – and if they do it may be enough to show teams and fans that spending money is not everything!
Sunderland 1-1 Manchester United
Sunderland’s comeback at Liverpool will fill them with confidence. They weren’t good at Anfield, but results breed belief and at home I think they can get something against Man United. Goalscorers – Jermain Defoe and Wayne Rooney.
Arsenal 3-1 Leicester
This is a must win for Arsenal. They have to get three points to keep their title chances alive, and Leicester will be full of confidence – this is a game they cannot afford to lose. Win it and they’re title favourites for me. That said, I do think the home side will have enough. Goalscorers – Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Riyad Mahrez.
Manchester City 2-1 Spurs
Man City have to win after last weekend to keep pace with Leicester. Spurs are a decent side and are also in the title race, but I think home advantage will tell here. Goalscorers – Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane.
Posted on 04/02/16
Games, games and more games… Liverpool have once again been busy on the pitch, if not off it, with the matches flowing thicker and faster than Jurgen Klopp could have predicted before his Anfield arrival. As ever, we have John Barnes on the case in this week’s instalment of his exclusive weekly blog.
Jamie Vardy’s goal, although beautiful to watch, delivered a big blow for Liverpool. The Reds failed to recover from the 29-year-old’s spectacular volley, and subsequently slipped to a 2-0 loss at the hands of the surprise league leaders, Leicester. While all is looking rosy for the Foxes, Liverpool’s top four aspirations have been made even more difficult, with the gulf now 11 points with 14 games to play. I’ve never subscribed to the view that getting into the top four is everything for Jurgen Klopp in his first season, but it’s disappointing to see hopes fading. It’s not impossible to get back into the Champions League, and a silver lining is that the manager will be learning a lot about his squad now as he looks towards the summer.
I can see an overhaul coming ahead of next season. Klopp now knows the expectation at the club and it’s plain to see that some players just aren’t up to it. He will be aware of what he needs and the board should back him to get players to build his own side. That said, this season is not a write off, and just one game stands in the way of a trophy, while the FA Cup and Europa League remain open opportunities.
The League Cup Final now looks more important than ever. I won’t say that it’s Liverpool’s biggest game of the season, but it’s certainly the biggest match they have coming up. Manchester City at Wembley is a great prospect, and I’m sure the fans, just the same as me, cannot wait.
The chance to sign players is now gone with the closing of the window, and as we all know Liverpool didn’t get Alex Teixeira. I for one was not too disappointed that the club ‘missed out’, even though he’s a very good player. The truth is each player has his value, and Teixeira, in the club’s opinion, wasn’t worth what Shakhtar Donetsk were asking. There’s no point paying over the odds.
Manchester City 3-1 Leicester
Even though Leicester are playing well and will be full of confidence I think this will be a game too far for them. Man City have the quality and, for me, are title favourites. Goalscorers – Sergio Aguero and Jamie Vardy.
Bournemouth 1-3 Arsenal
This is a must win for Arsenal, who have been leapfrogged by Spurs and can see Leicester moving away at the top. Bournemouth themselves play good football, but I think their open style will work for the Gunners, who have the ability to exploit even the smallest gaps. Goalscorers – Aaron Ramsey and Benik Afobe.
Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United
A big game to end the weekend, and I think it will be a very tight contest. Both sides can keep it tight, so I don’t see too many goals coming. Goalscorers – Anthony Martial and Eden Hazard.
Posted on 28/01/16
One of the most dramatic wins you’re likely to see this season at Norwich and a place in the League Cup Final secured… not a bad week for Liverpool! And to make it even better we’ve got Kop idol John Barnes’ view on everything to do with the Reds in his exclusive weekly blog.
Wembley awaits. Liverpool fans are now gearing up for their first trip to a final in the capital since Kenny Dalglish’s reign, and the team showed great heart to get there with a narrow win over Stoke. The performance at Anfield was by no means the best one you’ll see from the Reds, but in cup competition, especially at the semi-final stage, it’s all about the result, and the players showed great character and resolve to come through a tough 120 minutes and beat the Potters on penalties. For me I think there were some nerves following the first leg and perhaps even a bit of complacency given the 1-0 win at the Britannia Stadium, but to win while not playing well is the measure of a good team and young players coping so well with the shootout, in which Liverpool were clearly favourites, shows mental strength.
Of course with Manchester City waiting, Liverpool swiftly move from their tag as favourites in the semi to slight underdogs at Wembley. On paper the team from just down the M62 are stronger, but (cliché alert) the formbook goes out of the window in finals – remember Istanbul in 2005? – so there is plenty to be positive about… even if an all-Merseyside game would have been a brilliant spectacle.
It’s interesting that Jurgen Klopp now potentially stands just 90 minutes away from winning a trophy within months of arriving at the club. The last time silverware was being delivered to Anfield was under Dalglish in 2012, and although the times in between have almost brought a league title through Brendan Rodgers, it’s always nice to win big prizes, as that’s what players all want. For me the season will not be a success with just the League Cup, as if you offered me 15th position and to win the final I’d be very disappointed. Maybe finishing just outside the top four while winning the League Cup can be considered a success, but for me Champions League qualification is the aim.
Although Liverpool are in a cup final, how can I not mention that game at Norwich? Talk about drama. It was a relief to see Adam Lallana’s half-volley bounce into the net and the celebrations that followed, but I’d much rather be looking at games with 1-0 wins. Although that sounds negative, no side can expect to put the ball in the net so many times each week, and that’s what Liverpool are often asking themselves to do, with defensive frailties a real issue.
As I said last week, the Norwich game was a ‘must win’ to keep top four hopes alive, and I do believe there is still a chance. I don’t think this is just because of one match against a newly-promoted side, but instead I look to the inconsistency rivals are showing as inspiration. Manchester City drew, Arsenal lost, Manchester United cannot find any sort of form, and with all this happening, if Liverpool can just hang in there and keep getting enough points then I won’t be writing them off until late March at the earliest.
Before I sign off with the previews, a quick word on Alex Teixeira. January is a time of rumour and hearsay, but I hope to see the Brazilian come to Anfield before Monday’s deadline. I’ve watched him a lot in the Champions League in recent seasons and he looks like a player who could come in and be a big part of the team for the next four to five years. I would be wary of matching Shakhtar Donetsk’s massive valuation of him, but I can see late negotiations between the clubs happening.
Derby County 0-1 Manchester United
Derby’s league form has dipped a bit of late, and had they been playing the sort of football they’re capable of I’d have looked at this one as a genuine potential upset. Although they still have a chance, I think Man United will have enough to get the result on the day.
Liverpool 2-1 West Ham
As much as West Ham will be confident going into this after their recent wins over Liverpool, I think the home side will take great heart from getting to a cup final in the week and putting a few goals past Norwich, so I can see a win for Klopp.
MK Dons 0-2 Chelsea
The Dons are doing well in cup competitions, but I think with the way Chelsea’s season is going the FA Cup will have taken real importance. Their league campaign looks likely to end in disappointment, so a trip to Wembley will be a way to salvage something and I can see them being motivated for this one.
Posted on 21/01/16
There seems to be no end in sight when it comes to games for Liverpool, who have tasted victory and defeat in the space of the past couple of days. The Manchester United loss was followed by an expected FA Cup replay win over Exeter, and the matches have certainly raised a few talking points. As ever, we have Kop hero John Barnes on the case.
There we have it. Liverpool are officially in the hat for the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, but for me the real talking point has to be that Manchester United game on Sunday. The clash at Anfield was a strange one, as the home side were by far the better team, yet they just couldn’t get the ball over the line to convert dominance into points. Although this could be construed as a real negative, I think there is cause for belief. If we break the game down, Liverpool were poor from one set-piece and just lacked a clinical edge in the last third, and these things can be worked on. Jurgen Klopp can iron out such issues and I think we’re not far from seeing a good Liverpool team at both ends of the pitch.
I’ve heard some fans speaking about the difference between the performance in the 3-3 with Arsenal and the showing against Man United, but I don’t think there was a genuine dissimilarity. In both games Liverpool were on top for large spells and enjoyed lots of chances, but the difference is the ball went in against Arsene Wenger’s side.
Another constant was Roberto Firmino leading the attack. The Brazilian and Christian Benteke offer very different threats, and the former, in my opinion, is more suited to matches with the ‘bigger’ sides. Firmino may not be prolific in front of goal, but he operates well in the pockets of space and brings others into play well. Although I’ve just ‘bigged him up’, I would be looking to slot Benteke in to lead the line against Norwich. The Canaries will look to close the space Firmino operates in, so the chances may come from wide, and we know that the Belgian is very good in the air.
I think for the time being we’ll see Klopp being a reactive coach, rather than more pro-active. It’s important to remember that he doesn’t yet have a team he can call his own, and as a result he needs to adapt for specific challenges. Going into next season when he’s had a full transfer window in which to work, I think he’ll look to set his side up in a more consistent manner and let opponents worry more about Liverpool’s threats than the other way around.
Norwich 1-3 Liverpool
If Liverpool still have genuine aspirations to finish in the top four this is a must win game. And I think they’ll do it. Norwich will be happy with a draw, so I expect Liverpool to have the platform to attack. Goalscorers – Christian Benteke and Adam Lallana.
West Ham 1-3 Manchester City
I can’t see a repeat of West Ham’s win at Man City here, as I think Manuel Pellegrini’s side just have too much about them. Goalscorer – Sergio Aguero.
Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea
I have a sneaking feeling that Chelsea will get something from this. I know their performances this season have been far from great, but the manner of that late John Terry goal against Everton shows they have fight and spirit in the camp, and for me there are still some question marks surrounding Arsenal.
Posted on 14/01/16
Here we are again! The packed out fixture schedule means that Liverpool are once again in action this weekend, with Sunday’s massive Manchester United meeting set to be the Reds’ third game in just EIGHT days. Naturally, there is plenty to talk about and Kop hero John Barnes is here to voice his opinion on all things Anfield, while also looking further afield, in his exclusive weekly blog.
Another day, another game... well, that’s at least how it seems to be at the moment. After Jurgen Klopp rotated his squad heavily against Exeter in the FA Cup on Friday night, it was more business as usual for the German, who once again brought the big players back against an impressive Arsenal side. What a game it was, too! Joe Allen’s late equaliser salvaged a point on a hard-fought night on rainy Merseyside.
As I’ve already alluded to, the games keep coming thick and fast. Has Klopp been shocked by this? Not as such, although the intensity and demands of English football may be hitting him now. As an experienced manager with a great deal of know-how when it comes to balancing domestic and European action, he surely knew all about how difficult the task facing him in England would be. While in the Bundesliga he may have expected a few games that were virtual guarantees of three points, the Premier League never offers that, and as we’ve seen by the sheer level of inconsistency from traditional big teams, those in the lower half offer stern opposition.
With that in mind and the big game against Manchester United on the agenda for Sunday, how should Klopp tackle the now tricky Exeter replay? I expect him to keep faith with a few of the young players that did so well in Devon, but litter the team with a little more experience. With players coming back to fitness, a few of the more established names could be slotted straight in, and that’s sure to have a big impact on youngsters, who are still finding themselves in the senior team.
Moving away slightly from on-field matters, Liverpool have been fairly active in the January transfer market. Marko Grujic, who is already back at Red Star Belgrade, and Steven Caulker, have been added, but I don’t expect Klopp to do his real business until the summer. I’m not a big fan of the mid-season window, as you have to question the quality of players you’re able to get from rival teams willing to sell… are they really the best you can find? Klopp himself will benefit from a full season in charge, too, as he’ll be able to fully assess what he has and plug gaps and sort problems he’s identified to make the team his own.
Even though there’s so much Liverpool-based news to talk about now, I want to have a little look away from my old club. Chelsea are, perhaps, the big story of the season so far given their slide, yet I think the criticism Eden Hazard has been receiving is over blown. Yes, the Belgian hasn’t been at his best, but have the Chelsea team as a whole been good? That’s clearly a no. Hazard’s struggles are more a reflection on the team, and I don't think he’s the sort of player to carry the burden alone – he was part of a good unit during the title success.
Before I get to my predictions for the coming weekend, just a word on Manchester United. It may be construed as my Liverpool roots coming out, but I don’t consider Louis van Gaal’s team to be title contenders at all. Earlier this season they may have looked in a fairly good position to mount a challenge, but I think the ceiling for them is the top four now. The battle, for me, will be between them and Liverpool for the final spot, and it’ll go to the wire.
Spurs 3-1 Sunderland
Spurs have been one of the most consistent sides in the Premier League this season and have been playing well. Conversely, Sunderland have struggled of late – aside from their big win this week – so I think the home side will get the victory. Goalscorers – Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Jermain Defoe.
Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United
This game’s always a tough one to call, but I think that with the Anfield crowd behind them Liverpool will have enough to edge out a Manchester United side that don’t score many goals. Goalscorer – Christian Benteke.
Stoke 1-2 Arsenal
Stoke have often been tough opponents for Arsenal at home in the past. However, this Mark Hughes side aren’t the beast they have been, and Arsene Wenger’s team are playing very well. Goalscorers – Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jonathan Walters.
Posted on 12/01/16
With the games coming thicker and faster than ever for Liverpool, it’s been an interesting week for the Reds. From injuries to transfer window speculation and a glimpse of some relatively unused players against Exeter, there’s plenty to talk about, and Kop hero John Barnes is here to discuss all the big news in this week’s edition of his exclusive TitanBet Blog.
The games just keep on coming, don’t they? It seems that barely a day goes past without Liverpool in action now, and the FA Cup game at Exeter was really an illustration of how stretched things are for Jurgen Klopp. The German opted to put out a heavily changed team in Devon on Friday night, which was entirely understandable given the depth of the injury problems he’s facing. Aside from Christian Benteke, Jose Enrique, Adam Bogdan and, perhaps, Joao Teixeira, not many outside of the club and fanbase would have known a great deal about the players on show, so when that’s taken into account a 2-2 draw is by no means a poor result. Liverpool’s name remains in the hat for the next round and I’m sure the club are taking the competition very seriously, despite some questioning the level of respect Klopp showed with his selection.
It was great to see some younger players get a run out down at Exeter. The experience they gain will be vital, and although the replay was probably what Klopp wanted to avoid, he’ll get another chance to play them with a mix of some more experienced players. I can’t see many, if any, of the team being answers to the first-team problems in the short-term, but there we signs of encouragement.
Defence seems to be the position hit hardest by the injury crisis at Liverpool, so it’s only natural there have been links with signings, as we’re in January. I don’t like to comment on individual names at this stage, but I only want to see additions if they’re made with the long-term in mind. We need players who will improve the team and not just come in and be ‘quick fixes’, as they may then be relegated to the bench when everyone is back at full fitness.
It seems unlikely that anyone will be in for the Arsenal game, long or short-term, so Klopp will have to deal with what he has, and that means Kolo Toure is likely to play at the back. The Ivorian isn’t getting any younger and against quick players, of which Arsenal have many, there is some cause for concern for some. For me, though, I’m not at all worried. Toure is a vastly experienced defender who has won titles and knows what he’s doing. I have faith in him, as I do all of Liverpool’s players, and I’m sure he’ll want to show what he can still do against one of his old clubs.
For me the biggest ting for Liverpool now is to find some consistency. This cannot and will not happen over night, and Klopp will need to have key players back fit and firing to get a settled team on the pitch. Consistency is not an issue exclusive to Liverpool, though, with teams up and down the league this season having shown a great level or performance one week, only to drop off again the following game.
Before I round off with my predictions for the midweek games, I just wanted to comment on Arsenal’s title chances. This, for me, is the club’s best chance in six, maybe even more, years to win the title their fans and players crave. The race is between them and Manchester City, and although I personally think Manuel Pellegrini’s side will come out on top, the London club have a terrific chance. All it will take for them is City to falter, and that’s very much possible over a long season.
Newcastle 1-1 Manchester United
This will be a difficult one for Manchester United up at Newcastle. They didn’t player particularly well against Sheffield United in the FA Cup, albeit they got the result, and St James’ Park is a tough place to go for any away side. Of course Newcastle are struggling and are low on confidence, but I can see a draw. Goalscorers – Moussa Sissoko and Wayne Rooney.
Manchester City 2-0 Everton
This one looks really interesting to me. The teams met in the League Cup semi-final last week and had City won that game you could perhaps argue that revenge would motivate Everton. But with the boot on the other foot I think Manuel Pellegrini’s side will win. Goalscorers – Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal
With their injury situation I think Liverpool will be happy with a draw. Had the game been set to be played at the Emirates I think Arsenal would be certain favourites, but the Anfield crowd will be up for it and will make a difference. Goalscorers – Christian Benteke and Mesut Ozil.
Posted on 07/01/16
2016 is now here, but that doesn’t mean things have changed at Titanbet. We still have the Liverpool and England hero that is John Barnes writing his exclusive blog for us on a weekly basis, and this time he talks the Reds in the League Cup and injuries.
As is the way in January, we’ve had a few games in a very short space of time. Saturday saw a disappointing 2-0 loss at West Ham, but I don’t want to dwell on what went wrong in East London, instead the focus should be on the 90 minutes at Stoke. I was thoroughly impressed with the manner in which Jurgen Klopp’s side bounced back at the Britannia Stadium, with the fight and determination that was missing against the Hammers evident. For the way in which the Liverpool manager wants his side to play he needs this sort of strong mentality and resolve, which was really put into perspective by the way they coped with injuries to Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren.
On injuries, there has been some criticism aimed at the club, and specifically Klopp, for the way the players are dropping. The current list of stars on the sidelines is now in double figures and although this trend has kicked in since the German brought his high-tempo, pressing style to Anfield, I think it’s more coincidence than by-product. For a start, the players getting injured at the moment seem to be centre-backs, and they are not really tasked with harrying and harassing players high up the pitch, which obviously requires explosive movement. Instead, lots of games in a short period may be the issue.
Although the centre of defence looks worrying, the biggest miss, for me, will be Coutinho. The Brazilian hasn’t been at his best of late, but without him the team look a little bereft of ideas going forward, with his creativity key in everything positive in the final third. Okay, his exit may allow Klopp to get more pace in the team through Jordon Ibe or a more defensively responsible option like James Milner on the pitch, but if anything I think this side needs more Coutinhos, not fewer!
Perhaps the only positive about injuries coming now is the fact the transfer window is open. Clubs in the past have bought for the sake of buying, and I don’t want to see Liverpool do that, regardless of how bad things may be in terms of available numbers. That said, reinforcements are needed, and the loan market may be one that the club need to explore. Of course if the right player is available for the right price a deal should be chased regardless, but why buy players who in a matter of months may be out of the team? Loan moves make sense.
Before we switch to the FA Cup, I just want to have a word on the League Cup and success this season. For me the competition, although positive to win, doesn’t really have a bearing on the overall success of the campaign as a whole. For me, the league is always the big one as it shows the consistency of a team over a sustained period, and although I think the top four is still achievable, finishing fifth is by no means a failure.
With the games seemingly coming every other day, a trip to Exeter on Friday awaits. With the problems we’ve talked about, playing ‘the kids’ is a topic many are talking about, but you need balance in any XI. I would be looking to rotate some players, but a mix of experience, fitness and some youth in these circumstances is what’s needed. Liverpool should have enough in their squad to adhere to this and get the better of their League Two opponents.
Shortly after the FA Cup match Arsenal and Manchester United will arrive at Anfield in the space of just a few days. These two matches are obviously huge, and with Daniel Sturridge gaining fitness there is a chance he will play. Although a top quality player, Klopp must use the caution he has been recently with the striker, as there is no point rushing him back to only have the same problems a little further down the line. Even a 90% fit Sturridge shouldn’t be risked in my opinion. If it were another player in the same state I would go for it, but he’s a special case and the club needs him back at his best.
Exeter 0-2 Liverpool
I expect Klopp to have his team set up very aggressively against the League Two side and he’ll want to go out and build on the Stoke showing. Liverpool should be able to put out an XI from their squad strong enough to beat Exeter regardless of injuries.
Manchester United 3-1 Sheffield United
With it being at Old Trafford I think Man United will get the win here and advance. The away side are playing reasonably well and look good in League One, but home advantage will be key.
Spurs 3-1 Leicester
Spurs are in excellent form and Leicester have dropped off a little of late, so the London team, for me, will come out on top. I think the away side may be more concerned about Premier League results, too.
Posted on 31/12/15
Grab the champagne and get the party poppers ready, the end of 2015 is almost upon us and we’re all gearing up to welcome the New Year. But just before the celebrations break out, Liverpool, Watford and England hero John Barnes takes a look back over the past 365 days in his exclusive Titanbet weekly blog.
Here we are, the year is very nearly over. Although two half seasons spanned 2015, as they do every year, I thought it would make for a nice end to what has been a big 365 days by looking back at the some of the best moments and stories in football while peering ahead to 2016...
It’s hard to pick a specific highlight as there has been an end to one season and the start of a new campaign, but I’ve really enjoyed what’s happened at Barcelona in 2015. The Spaniards won the treble and were terrific every time I watched them, with their amazing front three of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar a joy to see. They’re a club that’s very much at one with their community, too, which reminds me of Liverpool, particularly in the Bill Shankly era.
It’s been a year of big change at Liverpool. There haven’t been too many real positives after last season ended so poorly, but with Jurgen Klopp in for Brendan Rodgers there is a feeling of positivity, which is great for the fans and players.
This is a tough one and I can’t really make a prediction until the end of January in terms of this season as a whole. Next month allows Klopp the opportunity to get in some players that he wants so he can make this Liverpool team his own. In the long-term I cannot see a genuine Klopp team being in place until the start of 2016/17, but that does not mean that this season is a write off!
I don’t see why not. I think Spurs, Manchester City and Arsenal, in no particular order, will make up the top three, but Liverpool are in the mix for the last spot. Ultimately Manchester United will be their main rivals, so I can see the battle being between the two big enemies, even though Crystal Palace and Leicester are around them at the moment.
It’s been a great start to the season for Watford. The opening few games weren’t fantastic, but the last six weeks/two months have been brilliant, with Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo playing terrifically well. I can see Watford, and Leicester too, dropping away a bit over the coming months, but finishing in mid-table is by no means a disappointment for my old team, as survival was the aim coming into the Premier League.
Taking the back end of last season and the start of this term into account, Harry Kane has been my man of 2015. The Spurs striker was scoring for fun at the back end of 2014/15 and, after a slow start, has picked up in recent weeks once again. He’s also now an England regular, which is testament to his rise.
Jamie Vardy and Ighalo are the real shock stars of recent months. We can’t forget that the Watford man was scoring plenty in the Championship, too!
From an English perspective I’m expecting a big year from Ross Barkley, John Stones and Raheem Sterling. It’s important not to put too much pressure on young players, but this three have such potential and are reaching good ages to really kick on.
For me, anything beyond the group stage is an achievement. I think the pressure comes when the next World Cup rolls around, but for now Euro 2016 is a bit soon for some of the young players, who are still finding themselves in international football. England had players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole in their pomp and won nothing, so how can we expect this crop to go to France and seriously challenge?
West Ham 1-2 Liverpool
West Ham showed signs of improvement with a win in their last game against Southampton, but prior to that they had been a little predictable in terms of attacking. I think Liverpool will have too much for them with an away game suiting Klopp’s team. Goalscorers – Christian Benteke and Andy Carroll.
Arsenal 3-1 Newcastle
Newcastle did well against both Liverpool and Spurs but have dipped off lately, while Arsenal are unpredictable, as was shown in the 4-0 disaster at Southampton. However, the Gunners will, in my opinion, win comfortably here. Goalscorers – Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Everton 2-2 Spurs
Everton’s defence has let them down of late, but they’re playing well. Spurs are a good attacking side, so I can see goals, but ultimately a draw. Goalscorers – Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane.
Posted on 22/12/15
The festive football period is now in full swing and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that his side can snap out of their poor run sooner rather than later after a shock 3-0 loss at Watford on Sunday. The Reds were roundly beaten by the Hornets, and in John Barnes we have a man who played for both clubs to give his view in this week’s addition of his exclusive Titanbet blog.
Liverpool may well have looked at the fixture list after beating Manchester City 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium and thought that points were very much available up until mid-January. Initially it all looked positive with a narrow 1-0 win over Swansea at Anfield, but the following three games – Newcastle, West Brom and Watford – have brought just one point, and some of the questions being asked earlier in the season have re-emerged. However, Liverpool are by no means an exclusive case when it comes to dropping points in ‘winnable’ games. Over the past few weeks both Chelsea and Manchester United – title contenders before a ball was kicked – have lost at home to newly promoted teams in the shape of Bournemouth and Norwich, showing that it’s a division-wide problem – the tone was rather set on the opening weekend when West Ham went to Arsenal and won - and not something going wrong on Merseyside. Liverpool are by no means in a crisis, and although the loss was, obviously, a set-back, Jurgen Klopp is sure to have learnt a lot about his players going forward.
One that will have struck him is Roberto Firmino's performance, and I don’t reckon we’ll be seeing the Brazilian up front again any time soon. The summer signing’s stats didn’t make for enjoyable reading at Watford – 0 shots, 0 chances created, 0 take ons and 57% pass completion – but playing in a role I don’t feel compliments his strengths surely had an impact. To get the best from him he needs a mobile striker running to open the spaces up, so he can’t be judged on this showing entirely, although he needs to start performing.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing in football, and looking back Liverpool’s set-up was, perhaps, not quite right for the Watford game. Okay, Klopp could have gone with Christian Benteke from the start and lost lost 5-0, but personally I like to see a No.9 who is a threat physically and can make crosses and balls into the box more dangerous through what he offers. I would have gone for him from kick-off, yet we shouldn’t be second guessing a great manager like Klopp, and I’m sure he’s learnt from it.
Moving on, the games don’t get any easier for Liverpool, with Christmas Premier League leaders Leicester coming to Anfield on Boxing Day. Claudio Ranieri’s side have been excellent so far and thoroughly deserve their spot at the top of the table, but I think Klopp will have been working hard to iron out issues he’s noticed. Leicester won’t sit back and will come at Liverpool thanks to the confidence they have, which could play into the hands of players like Coutinho and Lallana. That said, Riyad Mahrez is a player to worry about. For me the Algerian has been the best in the league this season, with his level of consistency and his creativity more instrumental than the goals Jamie Vardy - who has been great, too – has scored.
Before we get onto my previews, I just want to give Watford some praise. The majority of my blog this week has been about where it went wrong for Liverpool, but the Vicarage Road side deserve immense credit for how they got things right. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Watford play with nine men behind the ball and Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney up front, but the way they set-up gets the best from the pair, who have a wonderful understanding. Ben Watson and Etienne Capoue in midfield do a great job week in, week out, while the wide midfielders work tremendously hard to protect the full-backs and get up to support their attackers when given the chance. Some say it’s a problem to rely on Ighalo and Deeney for the goals, but the Watford set-up is tailored to getting them the balls they need, and it’s worked wonders so far!
Chelsea 2-0 Watford
Both sides enter this one with some confidence – Chelsea playing with freedom and desire now Jose Mourinho is gone is a poor reflection on some of their players – so this one will be a tight match. I think that the home side will have enough, though. Goalscorers – Diego Costa and Eden Hazard.
Liverpool 2-1 Leicester
As I’ve already alluded to, Klopp will have learnt from the Watford game, so I expect to see a big response from Liverpool at Anfield. Leicester will get players forward, so it’ll be an open game and the home side have the greater quality. Goalscorers – Christian Benteke and Riyad Mahrez.
Southampton 1-3 Arsenal
Even though Arsenal are in great form and Southampton have found playing at home difficult, this is no foregone conclusion. I’m backing Arsenal to win, but it won’t be easy for Arsene Wenger’s side. Goalscorers – Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Sadio Mane.
Posted on 18/12/15
It has been a huge week in football. As you all know by now Jose Mourinho has been sacked by Chelsea, while over at Liverpool the Jurgen Klopp honeymoon has shown signs of coming to an end. Titanbet Brand Ambassador John Barnes talks about his old side as they face another of his former teams, Watford, and gives his verdict on the Special One’s departure in this week’s chapter of his exclusive blog.
As a Liverpool fan it was disappointing to see points dropped at home in a winnable game against West Brom on Sunday. The Baggies were never going to be easy opponents, and it was pretty clear how they would set up against a Jurgen Klopp side that has struggled at Anfield this season. I have no problem with West Brom’s game plan as they have every right to go about each 90 minutes the best way possible to get a result, and Tony Pulis has been rewarded for nullifying the Reds’ threat with organisation and hard work. We could all see it happening, with Klopp’s counter-attacking style reliant on transitions and speedy breaks, so as long as the opponents don’t offer up the opportunities, that approach will be difficult to use effectively. In games like the West Brom match the really creative players need to come to the fore, and unfortunately Philippe Coutinho et al couldn’t quite create the chances needed.
After the match Klopp led the team to the fans, and, naturally, that drew some criticism from some. But those mocking the decision after a 2-2 draw are missing the point. Klopp was merely thanking supporters for their contribution after they stayed to the bitter end, cheered and did all they could for the equaliser that duly came from Divock Origi. It doesn’t matter what rivals say or do, all that matters is what Liverpool fans think, and the boss had to repay the crowd’s willingness to take on board what he asked for after the Crystal Palace loss.
Having just mentioned Origi’s goal, there is an argument for him to be given the nod as a starter with Christian Benteke having not quite performed recently. I don’t want to get involved in this and am willing to back Klopp whatever his decision eventually is. I’m sure he’ll be considering Origi for the Watford game, but unlike the fans, he has a week of training to go on, not just one game that’s been watched either on TV or in the ground.
The Watford clash is very intriguing on the whole. It’s strange to see the Hornets – one of my old teams – above Liverpool after 16 games of the Premier League season, but it's testament to the hard work and desire the players and the manager have shown. Watford recognised that they may not have the quality of the teams they will be up against most weeks this season, but in running that bit harder and showing that bit more passion they’ve levelled the playing field enough in certain matches to get points. It will be a long season and the results won’t come every weekend, but the start they have made has set them up well.
Odion Ighalo, for me, has been the star of the show. With Jamie Vardy the top scorer he’s obviously got the headlines and attention, but the football people and pundits I’ve talked to have been impressed with the Watford striker, and I know the fans really appreciate his efforts and goals.
Before I sign off with my predictions, I couldn’t let this week go by without a comment on Jose Mourinho being sacked by Chelsea. Yes results have been poor, and yes the club are near the relegation zone, but if a man like Mourinho, who has done so much for Chelsea and in football, can’t be given time, who can be? It’s a sad state of affairs when, arguably, the best football manager on the planet isn’t allowed the opportunity to turn things around, especially after winning the title just seven months ago! Unfortunately this is modern football, and until players take more responsibility, clubs will have to keep sacking managers.
Chelsea 1-0 Sunderland
Despite all that’s happened at Chelsea recently I still think they’ll beat Sunderland. Sam Allardyce’s team won’t roll over and will be fired up for this, but sometimes players start playing well in situations like the one at Stamford Bridge. Goalscorer – Diego Costa.
Watford 1-2 Liverpool
Watford have been playing brilliantly of late, but a game away from home will suit Liverpool, and Klopp’s side have the advantage in terms of quality. Goalscorers – Odion Ighalo and Philippe Coutinho.
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City
It’s too early to call this one a title decider because, with the way this season is going, both teams will drop plenty more points. I think they’ll both be wary of a defeat here, so a draw is on the cards. Goalscorers – Wilfried Bony and Aaron Ramsey.
Posted on 09/12/15
The Premier League season continued it’s unpredictability last weekend as Man City, Man United and Liverpool all dropped points, while Leicester continued their superb run of form to return to the top of the table. John Barnes has his say on all the weekend’s action in his exclusive weekly TitanBet blog.
It was a surprise to see Liverpool follow up their impressive 6-1 Capital One Cup victory over Southampton with a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Newcastle on Sunday. Most people were equally surprised to see Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi return to the bench after scoring for fun against Southampton just days before, but I don’t think they were dropped. You have to handle Daniel Sturridge’s injuries carefully, so to have him play two games in such a short space of time would have been a huge risk to take.
Christian Benteke came in to replace the duo but a lack of intensity going forward had many suggesting the Belgium international isn’t the right striker to play in Jurgen Klopp’s preferred style of play. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Obviously Sturridge is more mobile and quicker, but he’s a different kind of player. Benteke thrives off a more direct style of play, we all know that. but Klopp will still know exactly how to use him to his advantage. It was just a bad day for everyone at Liverpool.
Liverpool clearly missed Philippe Coutinho on Sunday, though. He is their most important player in terms of creativity. Defensively Liverpool work hard in midfield, they have hard working players who are strong and physical, but going forward they do lack that cutting edge without Coutinho.
Some people have suggested Klopp should target a player similar to Coutinho in January, but don’t forget Roberto Firmino is more than capable of playing in that role. That’s why I don’t think Klopp will necessarily focus on strengthening one position in January. It’ll be a question of improving the quality of the team all over if possible.
Aside from the Premier League we saw Liverpool draw Stoke City in the semi-final of the Capital One Cup, with Everton and Man City playing each other in the other. I’ve heard some people label Liverpool as favourites to win the cup now, but they’re not. Manchester City are the favourites to win it. Yes, Liverpool beat Man City 4-1 at the Etihad a few weeks ago but you can’t go by that. Stoke beat Man City 2-0 last weekend, so why aren’t they also being touted as the favourites. Man City have the strongest team and are above everyone else in the league, which is why they are the favourites.
Back to the Premier League, and it’s still very open after 15 games. Only ten points separate 1st and 11th, but I think it’ll begin to even out pretty soon. Of course Chelsea aren’t up there anymore, which has left Man City, Man United and Arsenal with a great chance to try and win the league. It’ll come down to consistency, which we haven’t yet this season. Last season Chelsea won the league because they were consistent, but this season City, United and Arsenal keep dropping points when they perhaps shouldn’t be.
That said, I don’t think the title race will go down to the wire and the top five or six will look similar to what it normally does, with those three big teams up there and then Liverpool and Tottenham fighting for that final top four spot.
And then you’ve still got Leicester, who won again at the weekend. Riyad Mahrez reminded us all that the Foxes’ success isn’t all down to Jamie Vardy this season, but I don’t think they’ll stay at the top for much longer. They’ll drop points eventually, and I think a top ten finish for them come the end of the season is all they’ll be targeting.
My old club Watford also got another good win at the weekend by beating Norwich 2-0. They’re in the top ten now, but all they’ll still be wanting is to finish fourth from bottom. That’s all they want, to stay in the Premier League. Anything else is a bonus. They won’t get carried away and start dreaming for anything bigger either.
And finally, Bournemouth went to Stamford Bridge and came away with a historic 1-0 victory over Chelsea. They’ve had some terrible luck with injuries to key players this season but they’re still playing well and grinding out the odd result. But can they stay up? They’ll always have a fighting chance, but I don’t think they will. Their lack of strength and depth in the squad could be a problem later in the season and I think they’ll eventually be relegated.
Aston Villa 0-2 Arsenal
Villa are really struggling at the moment and Arsenal have been playing well. So I can’t look past a comfortable 2-0 win for the Gunners here. Olivier Giroud to score.
Tottenham 2-0 Newcastle
Spurs have been very impressive and are still unbeaten since the opening day of the season. Newcastle will be buoyed by their win over Liverpool, but not many teams go to White Hart Lane and win these days. 2-0 Spurs, Harry Kane with both goals.
Liverpool 3-0 West Brom
While West Brom have been playing well recently, Liverpool will be eager to bounce back from their loss to Newcastle very quickly. And for that reason I think they’ll turn on the style at Anfield and win 3-0. Benteke to score at least one.
Posted on 02/12/15
In a big week for football as Leicester’s Jamie Vardy broke the Premier League scoring record with 11 goals in 11 games, Liverpool profited to move six points from the top of the table, while Watford extended the gap between themselves and the dreaded relegation zone. A player to have played in both the red and yellow shirts, John Barnes, talks through a big seven days in football in his exclusive weekly TitanBet blog.
It doesn’t seem long ago that Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool, but with the nature of the games coming thick and fast for the Merseyside club, the German is already 10 deep into his Anfield reign. This milestone seems like a good one to stop at and reflect, as now we know just what the 48-year-old expects from his team, individual players and what he will bring. All in all I think the impact Klopp has made is better than any fan could realistically have expected. There have been blips such as the home loss to Crystal Palace, but the positives have far outweighed the negatives and as the weeks pass the players are becoming more and more comfortable in their new roles in a new system. There seems to be a real buy in from key men, with the results at Chelsea and Manchester City showing that there’s an in this together mentality with players working for one another.
With so many of Liverpool’s first 14 matches having been big clashes – mostly away from home – the coming few weeks provide a range of winnable fixtures. Of course the Premier League is unpredictable and three points are never ever a guarantee, but Leicester on Boxing Day aside, Klopp’s men don’t have another top end team to play until January, which opens up the possibility to get points on the board. We’re now just six off the top of the table after a solid if unspectacular 1-0 win over Swansea, but talk of the title is still a little mad. I can see the club making genuine strides towards being in the frame for third or fourth place by the start of 2016, and that has to be the aim.
The Swansea match saw Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge return from long lay-offs, and the applause that boomed around Anfield shows how much they’ve been missed. With his captain and best striker back, Klopp can now look to field his strongest XI – which he’s been unable to do so far – while also being free to bring in fresh players for cup matches. Assuming everyone can be kept fit, the possibilities are very exciting.
On the subject of fitness, Klopp’s comments regarding Sturridge and ‘pain and real pain’ were, in my opinion, a little unfair. The last 18 months have been hugely frustrating for all at the club with the England international consistently battling against injuries, but nobody knows how he is truly feeling in terms of his own body. Only Sturridge has the answers, and we have to believe him if he says he has a problem.
This evening a trip to Southampton awaits, with Liverpool, potentially, just three games from a cup final at Wembley. The League Cup is often belittled, but a trophy in his first few months at the club will surely appeal to Klopp as he looks to lay down a legacy, so this is a big game. That said, I would take a top four finish over winning the competition all day long, with getting back into the Champions League the aim for the season in my opinion.
Moving away from Liverpool it was good to see another of my old sides in the shape of Watford do well over the weekend. A solid win over Aston Villa means that they’re now nine points clear of the dreaded relegation zone, which shows how well they have taken to the top tier. Promoted teams often go one of two ways, as Bournemouth have shown, and I’m glad Watford have made a promising start. It’s a long 38-game season though, and they will need to ride out some difficult times, but I can’t see them freefalling as other sides have in the past.
I’ll finish on the big story of the weekend… Leicester’s Jamie Vardy. 11 goals in 11 games is a fantastic return and I’ve been hugely impressed with his performances. He has pace and makes good runs, while everything he touches seems to go in at the moment, so naturally big teams are interested. But I think it’s too soon to even think about Vardy at a traditional top four club. He needs to prove himself over a little longer than 14 games.
Manchester United 3-1 West Ham
West Ham have been a very dangerous team away from home this season, especially against the big clubs, but I do think Manchester United will get the win as they’ve been grinding out results of late and are good at home. Goalscorers – Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.
Chelsea 2-0 Bournemouth
I think Chelsea will win here, which would be a boost for them with recent weeks having brought fewer defeats. Bournemouth will take heart from that last gasp 3-3 with Everton, but I don’t think they’ll have enough. Goalscorers – Diego Costa and Eden Hazard.
Newcastle 1-2 Liverpool
Playing away from home will suit Liverpool against a Newcastle team that will have to come out and play at St James’ Park. I think it’ll be a fourth win on the spin for Klopp, as Steve McClaren’s men are in a very poor run of form. Goalscorers – Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke.
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